By NICK McQUEEN
OAKLEY -- In Week 2 of the 2014 season when the Oakley High School football team fell 35-8 to Smith Center on the road, the Plainsmen fumbled the ball four times, losing all four, and then-starting quarterback Keenan Smith had three interceptions.
One fumble was returned 68 yards, and one interception was returned 45 yards for a score.
Take away those costly turnovers, and Oakley could be closer to being 4-2 right now instead of 3-3 following Friday night's 33-0 homecoming win against Thomas More Prep-Marian in a battle between the MCL's newest teams.
Friday was another Oakley game where turnovers proved to be a determining factor, but in Oakley's favor in its second straight victory.
The Plainsmen lost three fumbles, but picked off TMP freshman quarterback David McFarland four times, and recovered a McFarland fumble in the end zone to earn the shutout.
"Last week (a 76-6 win against Leoti-Wichita County) was one of those games where you don't know exactly where you're at," said Oakley first-year coach Ty Pfannenstiel. "We thought we played a good game, but two weeks is where you can really get a grasp of where you're at."
Now Oakley, which got three rushing touchdowns from junior Colter Stoll in the win, returns to Class 2-1A, District 7 play when it plays host to Ellis (3-3, 1-1 district) on Friday. Oakley is 1-0 in the district after last week's win against Wichita County.
"We put the ball on the ground way too many times, but we had things rolling," Pfannenstiel said. "Defensively, I couldn't ask for a better effort. We've been playing good defense. Our kids played hard tonight and got a lot of key stops at the end for sure."
The teams exchanged punts and turnovers early, but Oakley struck first when sophomore quarterback Kendrick Smith, Keenan's younger brother and backup to the injured starter, ran in from 17 yards out. He and Stoll finished with 100-plus yards each on the ground for the game.
After McFarland's third pick of the first half, Oakley took a 20-0 lead with 33 seconds left in the second quarter on a 9-yard run by Stoll. "(Turnovers) certainly forced us into some tough situations when you look at being kind of backed up defensively," Monarch coach John Montgomery said. "Forced us to where we couldn't really make mistakes. It's tough to play at a high level when your back's against the wall like that."
The Monarchs' fourth turnover of the game came midway through the third quarter when McFarland dropped back to pass in his own end zone, but had it slip out of his hands in cold, wet field conditions. Oakley senior defensive end Ryan Kuhn fell on it in the end zone for a 27-0 lead.
Kuhn was back in the lineup after missing the last two weeks with an ankle injury, and was back to 100 percent for the first time since Week 1.
"That's so huge for us inside," Pfannenstiel said of Kuhn, last season's HDN Defensive Player of the Year. "A lot of times he draws double teams that free up our linebackers. He can get in there and move people. Glad he was able to get on the field and play a game healthy."
Montgomery, whose team forced Oakley into several punts in the second half, despite trailing, was pleased with his team's defensive effort, but the offense couldn't produce much against Oakley's starting 'D.'
"I was pleased with our intensity, the way we kept after it," Montgomery said. "We forced some turnovers defensively and took advantage of some fumbles, and gave our offense a few extra opportunities."
Senior Nick Schmidt gained 99 yards on the ground, 50 coming in TMP's final drive against the Oakley second string. The Monarchs dropped to 0-6, despite having three losses within one score. They begin Class 3A, District 14 play when they play host to Beloit (4-2) on Friday.
"There's some frustration, but they've done a good job of keeping their heads in it, and continuing to battle every snap," Montgomery said. "At some point, that will pay off for us."
Oakley, which has allowed just 16 points in its three wins, has district contests against Ellis, Plainville and La Crosse to close the regular season. In all likelihood, Oakley wins against Ellis and Plainville the next two weeks would secure a 2-1A playoff spot. The Plainsmen's three losses have come to teams that are a combined 15-3.
"The first four games, we never really played with that much emotion," Pfannenstiel said.
"It didn't seem like we were having fun on the field. That's something we tried to emphasize was how much fun it is when you're playing the game at the highest level, and playing like you're having fun.
"The kids have really turned that over here in the last few weeks."
Note -- TMP quarterback Max Megaffin now will miss the rest of the season after he had surgery after he sustained a leg injury three weeks ago.
Oakley 33, TMP 0
TMP (0-6, 0-5 MCL) 0 0 0 0 -- 0
Oakley (3-3, 1-3 MCL) 7 13 7 6 -- 33
O -- Smith 17 run (Stoll kick).
O -- Stoll 2 run (kick failed).
O -- Stoll 9 run (Stoll kick).
O -- Kuhn 0 fumble recovery (Stoll kick).
O -- Stoll 1 run (kick blocked).