By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Nick Hamilton’s 70-yard punt return for a touchdown with 1:39 remaining in the game capped a furious fourth quarter comeback for Ponca City as the Wildcats overcame a 14-0 fourth quarter deficit to deliver a crushing 21-20 defeat for the Enid Plainsmen Friday night at Selby Stadium.
It was the fifth straight loss for Enid (2-5, 0-4) and snapped an eight-game losing streak, dating back to last season for Ponca City (1-6, 1-3).
“We have to play four quarters,” said Enid head coach Steve Chard. “It is about execution at crunch time. As a team we did not do it.”
The Plainsmen, trailing 21-14 after Hamilton’s touchdown return and a Ponca City two-point conversion, mounted a late charge of their own, marching 80 yards in only 49 seconds with quarterback Chance Pryor scoring on a 1-yard run to make it 21-20.
The Plainsmen opted to go for two points and the win, instead of attempting an extra point to send the game potentially into overtime. But Pryor’s pass intended for Alex Lofton was batted away. Enid attempted an onside kick, which was recovered by Ponca City and the Wildcats ran out the clock for the win.
The Wildcats, who were held to 75 yards of offense in the first half, suddenly found life in the fourth quarter shortly after the Plainsmen defense stopped Ponca City on fourth down at the Enid 6-yard line and still trailing 14-0.
On Enid’s next possession, Raeshaan Finley, in for Seth Handley, who had to leave the game due to cramps, fumbled the ball, and Ponca City recovered at the Enid 17-yard line.
“Handley cramps up and can’t play and nobody picked up the slack,” Chard said.
After an incomplete pass in the corner of the end zone, Enid’s Lofton pushed the Ponca City wide receiver into the retaining fence well out of bounds and was called for a personal foul, setting up the Wildcats at the 9-yard line, where quarterback Jake Didlake found Cole Nimmo for a touchdown to cut Enid’s lead to 14-7.
The Wildcats made it 14-13, driving 63 yards after stopping Enid on its ensuing possession. The Wildcats again were aided in their drive by an Enid penalty as the Plainsmen were called for holding after an incomplete Ponca City pass on third and nine from the EHS 42-yard line. After runs of 15 and 7 yards by Hamilton, Didlake connected again with Nimmo, this time for a 7-yard touchdown to make it 14-13. But the Plainsmen held onto their slim lead when Christian Voitik blocked the extra point attempt.
But the game turned after Enid was stopped on its next possession and Hamilton scored what would turn out to be the game-winning touchdown with his punt return, the second punt return for a touchdown the Plainsmen have surrendered this season.
The Plainsmen got on the board first when Handley scored on an 8-yard run to cap a 56-yard drive that was set up by a defensive stop and an intentional grounding call on Didlake that backed the Wildcats (0-7, 0-4) up to their own 28-yard line after starting at Enid’s 49-yard line.
Handley took the ball 37 yards on Enid’s first play after the Wildcats punted to Enid’s 44-yard line. A personal foul on the Wildcats set the Plainsmen up on the Ponca City 8-yard line, where Handley took it in for the score with seven minutes left in the opening quarter.
Another defensive stop set up the Plainsmen’s next touchdown after Ponca City was stopped on fourth-and-11 at Enid’s 25-yard line. The Wildcats appeared to have stopped Enid as the Plainsmen faced third-and-20 when Pryor connected on a deep pass to Lofton for a 44-yard gain with Lofton snaring the ball out of the air between two defenders at the Ponca City 41-yard line. A 19-yard run by Handley up the middle, a face mask penalty on Ponca City and a pair of Handley runs put Enid up 14-0 with 11:56 left in the half.
Pryor and Lofton connected again on Enid’s next possession on a near-carbon copy of their earlier play for a 40-yard gain as again Lofton pulled down the pass between a pair of Wildcat defenders as Lofton atoned for a near disaster after being tackled in the end zone following a Ponca City punt that went 76 yards. The officials initially signaled a safety, but later reversed their decision to give Enid a touchback.
But the drive stalled when Pryor was intercepted by Cole Nimmo in the end zone. It was the second time Nimmo picked off Pryor in the half.
But the Plainsmen defense again stymied the Wildcats and Enid took a 14-0 lead into the halftime locker room.
Enid outgained Ponca City 213-75 yards in the first half with Handley rushing for 98 first-half yards. Ponca City was held to 13 yards rushing on 11 carries.
After a brief burst of rain, both teams slogged through a scoreless third quarter until Ponca City broke through in the fourth quarter with 21 points for the comeback win. The Plainsmen were penalized six times in the second half.
“We didn’t execute offensively the whole game. We made some mistakes coaching-wise I guess, but it’s a group thing.”
Handley finished with 136 yards to lead all rushers and Enid outgained Ponca City 461-172 yards in the contest, but couldn’t close out the game when it needed.
“We’ll go to work tomorrow,” Chard said. “I don’t have an answer for you except we go to work tomorrow. I just told them (in a closed-door team meeting after the game) we can’t call the next three teams and cancel.”
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