CLAFLIN — Through a 2-0 start with blowout wins against St. John and Ellinwood, it might have been a little difficult for Otis-Bison High School football coach Travis Starr to gauge what his 2017 Cougar team really has.
Friday night against perennial Eight-Man Division I contender and Central Prairie League foe Claflin-Central Plains, the Cougar coach got a little better understanding of where his team is at. It just didn’t end with a check mark in the win column.
In the end, Central Plains’ depth and halftime adjustments won out in a 36-12 victory for the Oilers’ homecoming game.
Breaking a 6-6 tie in the third quarter, the Oilers scored on back-to-back possessions and eventually wore down the bigger Cougars to grab the victory, handing Otis-Bison its first loss.
“They out-physicalled us,” Starr said. “Offensive, defensive line, they got after us. That was the difference.”
That was the game plan all along, Central Plains coach Chris Steiner said. He knew, while smaller in numbers, the Cougars were going to be bigger in the trenches. Otis-Bison’s line features 225-pound Luke Higgason and 280-pound Landon Hoopingarner.
But the Oilers, Steiner said, just needed to stay in it and bide their time.
“We wanted to grind, try not to score quick,” the coach said. “Grind things out 3 or 4 yards at a time, and try to grind it out and get them tired.”
Otis-Bison struck on the opening possession. The Cougars marched down the field and senior running back Blake Bahr scored from 25 yards out for the 6-0 lead after the failed two-point conversion.
Things seemed to be going even more the Cougars way when Central Plains quarterback Myles Menges was picked off by Bahr in the end zone late in the opening quarter. But after a punt, Central Plains got things rolling, and Anthony Oberle scored from 8 yards out to tie the game with 11 minutes to play before halftime. A defensive tussle ensued and the teams went into the locker room, settling for the tie.
With Menges dealing with a little illness, Central Plains turned to its second quarterback in Devin Ryan, but it was Alex Hickel who gave the Oilers the punch they needed. On third-and-long, Hickel bursted from midfield to the house, and after an Otis-Bison punt, Hickel then scored from 3. Central Plains led 20-6 by the 6:08 mark of the third.
“Kids played well, and stuck to the game plan,” Steiner said. “Good win for us. That’s a good team.
“The more tired they got, the more physical we needed to be.”
Otis-Bison didn’t muster much offense in the second half, save for a 36-yard run by Bahr that made it 20-12, but that was a spark Starr was looking for after his team fell behind.
“Couldn’t get first downs put together and we stalled out quite a few times,” Starr said. “We responded end of the third quarter, which was nice to see.
“There was some life, and that was good to see.”
Central Plains, though, erased the momentum to start the fourth with a 14-yard run by Hickel to shift the scale.
Otis-Bison’s roster features just 14 players, compared to 27 for the Oilers.
“They have 2 or 3 more of those guys, it would be a different ball game,” Steiner said of Otis-Bison.
Despite the loss, Starr said he learned more about his team.
“We can carry that on to the next game,” he said.
The next game will be a Friday home date with 3-0 Victoria. Last season, Otis-Bison won 46-36 in Victoria, but by many accounts — including a 34-8 victory over Central Plains in Week 1 — the Knights have improved. Victoria has allowed just 20 points in three games, and shut out Ellinwood 50-0 on Friday.