PRYOR, OK —
Brennon Barth just gets better every week.
The junior quarterback racked up 369 rushing yards — 318 in the first half alone — and seven touchdowns to lead Pryor past defending district champion East Central 49-21 and into the Class 5A state playoffs Friday at Tiger Stadium.
"It feels like a whole other game," Barth said. "It was just a heck of a game."
Barth's performance left his head coach Jason Freeman speechless. "Wow, pretty much," Freeman said after a long pause. "He's the heart of our offense. He did a great job."
Barth said he didn't even practice during the week after an ankle injury he sustained last week against Collinsville.
"I put my helmet and shoulder pads on like I was going to practice, but Anthony [Martinez], our second-stringer, he took most of the reps," Barth said. "I threw some passes, but mostly I tried to stay off of it."
Barth and the Tigers (7-3, 6-1 District 5A-4) only threw two passes Friday, and one was a successful two-point conversion. They didn't need to put the ball in the air, though. Pryor ran 50 more plays than East Central and picked up 19 first downs to the Cardinals' four. The Tigers outran the Cardinals by 494 yards and forced four turnovers.
"[Defenders] just get caught up in all that trash, and it keeps them from tackling our running back," Freeman said of his offensive scheme. "We do what do. That's who we are. It seems fancy, but it's really not."
Barth scored all seven touchdowns for the Tigers, including five in the decisive second-quarter that saw Pryor put up 36 points. Barth scored four times in a span of 4:04 to give Pryor a 42-21 lead heading into halftime. The score was tied at 21 as late as 2:28 left before the break.
Barth carried the ball 26 times before heading into the locker room. "I think it just turned out that way," Barth said of his workload. "Our linemen were just mashing them up. Our outside veer was working for us."
Barth scored on runs of nine, seven, one, 58, 53, nine and four yards before the second string took over midway through the third quarter. Barth's only big miscue was a fumble that ended Pryor's second drive, one that East Central's Alexander Bradley returned 97 yards for the Cardinals' only lead of the game (7-6).
The Cards (4-6, 4-3 5A-4) stayed close for the first quarter and a half on the strength of two passing touchdowns from quarterback Tre'von Cherry to Jaylin Walker.
"Man for man, their receivers against us, they're more talented," Freeman said. "We settled down. The big deal is we just got pressure on their quarterback. Didn't let him sit in the pocket and throw. We got good pressure, made him run around a little bit, then we started having success ... He's a good quarterback. The best quarterback we've seen all year."
Freeman praised linebacker Tim Stimson and the defensive line for providing pressure. Alex McCammon registered two sacks and the defense forced an intentional grounding call in the first half. In the second, Cherry was just 1-for-7 with three interceptions (Martinez, Kegan Yates and Stevon Crogan).
Senior Matt McGouldrick, one of 14 seniors playing his last regular season game at Tiger Stadium, ran for 73 yards on 21 carries. Fellow senior Stimson added 32 yards on seven totes.
"I challenged our offensive line this week because last week, I don't think we played as well as we have in the past," Freeman said of the Tigers' 20-19 loss to Collinsville. "I challenged them to come off the line and hit somebody in the mouth and for the most part, we did exactly what we wanted to do."
The Tigers will be back at home next week for the first round of the playoffs, Pryor's first playoff game since 2011. The Tigers will play 4-6 Skiatook, which crashed the playoff party by virtue of its 34-16 win over Bishop Kelley Friday. East Central must travel to McAlester (9-1).
"It's a big deal," Freeman said. "To be honest with you, my expectation going into the season was to go 7-3. I thought we'd possibly get beat by Claremore, Collinsville and Wagoner. It happened a different way, but for these seniors to do what they're doing ... they're not the most talented team in the world, but the way we practice, the toughness that they show, the character. It's a great feeling.
"I've said this before. I want bad years here to be 6-4. I want playoffs to be a normal thing. To say that we would be playing for the district championship last week, I didn't think we'd be doing that. It's a great year for these guys."