Special to The Sun
Sophomore quarterback Thomas Qualls came up just inches short of the end zone on a two-point conversion attempt with less than a minute to play as the Saints were defeated by Tulsa Metro Christian, 14-13, Friday night at Saints Field.
Qualls, pressed into duty when starting quarterback Will McKinnis was suspended midweek, led the Saints on a spirited drive late in the quarter which began with a punt to midfield.
It took OCS 12 plays to cover the 50 yards with Qualls connecting with Conner Sikes on a fourth-and-9 with 1:03 to play. The Saints immediately lined up with PAT kicker Jack Markmiller set to tie the game.
However Coach Derek Turner called time-out and after a brief conference with his coaches, sent the regular offense on to go for the two points and a win. Qualls took the snap and rolled to his left looking for Kade Van Meter. But with all his receivers covered, Qualls tucked the ball in and headed for the end zone where he was met by two Metro Christian defenders.
Qualls went airborne and collided in mid-air before rolling toward the goal line. The entire OCS coaching staff, bench and stands erupted in joy assuming he was over the line but the referee quickly put his foot down at the three-inch line and signalled “no good” on the conversion try.
An attempted onside kick was foiled when 300-pound Metro tackle Bewley Wales smothered the bouncing pigskin and the Patriots ran out the clock.
“I felt like we had a better chance of running in the extra point than we would have in overtime. It was a good call, Thomas got good protection from the o-line and he made a great effort with the ball,” Turner said after the game.
After the two teams fought to a 7-7 tie in the first half, Metro got a huge break when the ball sailed over Saint punter Jared Goff’s head and the Patriots covered it on the one-yard line.
They scored but it wasn’t easy and Metro put in their Belldozer package with 6-2, 230-pound sophomore Abe Anderson lining up with two burly linemen on either side. On the first snap, Caleb Herrera sailed over the pile of bodies and knocked Anderson back to the three. On snap No. 2, it was 150-pound junior Corbin Metz who dragged Anderson down for a six-yard loss back to the eight.
Starting QB Justin Harrell came back in and connected with Brody Wagner for seven of those yards and on fourth down, Anderson came back and punched it in. Luke Bailey then toed what would be the eventual winning point for a 14-6 lead until the Saints came alive with 6:39 left in the contest.
The two clubs took completely different routes to arrive at the 7-all tie at halftime. The Patriots started like a house afire, with Harrell connecting on four straight passing attempts to open the contest before the Saints’ defense settled in.
The opening drive reached the Oklahoma Christian 27 before Evan Lashar, Cameron James and Jack Fallon came up with big plays to stop the advance. Meanwhile, the Saints were having trouble with the snap and were forced to punt on all three possessions in the first quarter.
They only had one first down in the opening quarter. Palmer Rice, a 160-pound senior who was outweighed by more than 100 pounds by the offensive linemen he faced from his nose guard position, nonetheless came up big on the Patriot’s second possession, forcing a fumble as a teammate joined him in sacking Harrell.
Martel, Schick and Rice then combined to sack Harrell again on the final play of a scoreless first quarter.
Van Meter had a big defensive play to force a Patriot punt giving OCS possession on their own 26 to open the second quarter. Aided by 55 yards in penalties by Metro, the Saints finally reached the end zone. With 7:05 left, Justin Lewis, Preston Draelos, Jonathan Turner, Braden Werner and Martel ushered Cameron James into the end zone from the five and Markmiller toed the PAT to put OCS on top, 7-0.
Big plays in the drive were passes from Qualls to Luke Frankfort for six yards on a fourth down and three at midfield and then a 13-yard strike to Sikes that set up James’ TD run.
But the Patriots wasted no time getting onto the scoreboard taking the kickoff and covering 63 yards on just seven plays, climaxed by an 18-yard TD toss from Harrell to Danny Burke. Luke Bailey tied it up with the PAT.
The OCS faithful had a huge disappointment when James took a short punt on the Metro 30 and dashed into the end zone practically untouched with just 2:09 remaining on the halftime clock. But to their dismay, the dreaded yellow flag sailed high in the air signaling a block in the back and the Saints were forced to punt.
The Patriots had one last shot before halftime, but the Oklahoma Christian defense shut down the Metro Air Express as James, Schick and Rice slapped down passes before Rice and Frankfort sacked Harrell for a nine-yard loss to end the half.
The defending state Class 2A champion Saints will try to get back on the winning track Friday night when they visit Tonkawa in a non-district game.