VARDAMAN – With less than five minutes remaining and tied with Vardaman 13-13, Okolona head coach Calvin Aldridge was searching for a senior to make a play.
Okolona’s Ryan Isbell volunteered his services and provided that crucial play for Aldridge.
Isbell blocked a punt and Kentray Ware returned it 29 yards with 4:20 left in the game to aid Okolona’s 25-13 victory.
With the win, Okolona moved to 6-2 overall and remained perfect in Division 1-1A at 4-0.
“You are hoping a senior will come up and make a play right there,” said Aldridge. “Before they punted, Ryan came to me and said he was going to block it. That is what you hope for and that is what we got.”
And Isbell agreed.
“I was so determined to make a play,” said Isbell. “I knew I had to go and get that punt. We needed something good to happen and there was no better time.”
Earlier in the second half, Vardaman (4-3, 2-2) blocked an Okolona punt – its second of the night – and recovered the ball in the end zone to tie the game.
Okolona iced the game when Ordarrion McCoy returned an interception 79 yards for the final points of the night.
“Our secondary has played well all year,” said Aldridge. “They come big when they have to and that was our fourth pick returned for a touchdown this year.”
Okolona jumped out quickly to a 13-0 advantage and produced touchdowns on its first two drives. Quarterback Zack Brooks tossed an 18-yard touchdown pass to Marques Conway while Ware followed up with a 62-yard touchdown run with 2:09 left in the opening quarter.
But despite out-gaining Vardaman 226-53 in total offense, Okolona held just a 13-6 advantage at the break. Vardaman took advantage of an Okolona fumble to make it a one-possession game following freshman Cody Jenkins’ five-yard touchdown run with 8:20 left in the opening half.
Okolona dominated the stats but had to overcome three turnovers and the two blocked punts.
The Chieftains held Vardaman to just four first down and 89 total yards. Meanwhile, Okolona racked up 264 yards on a sloppy field, including 227 on the ground.
Ware led the Okolona offense with 121 rushing yards on just nine carries. His two touchdowns have Okolona eying a crucial divisional matchup with Smithville in two weeks.
“As seniors, this is what you work for,” said Ware. “We have remained focused and worked hard every day. We are still tied atop the division and control our own fate.”
Paul Jones/Special to the Journal