By KOLBY PAXTON
Less than 48 hours prior to kickoff, Sequoyah looked as though it would be heavily handicapped by the sudden ineligibility of a dozen or more of the team’s most important players. Friday night, the Indians rolled into Muskogee at full strength, apparently unfazed by the circus that surrounds them.
With his father in the stands, Brayden Scott passed for 127 yards and two scores, leading No. 7 Sequoyah to a 3A-7 District championship with a 28-0 beatdown of No. 8 Hilldale.
“I’m so proud of my teammates after all that we went through this week,” said Scott. “We stuck together and avoided distractions.”
Indeed, they did, though early on the Indians appeared as if they may have been thrown off by a game day routine, interrupted to the tune of a 10 a.m. appointment in Cherokee County District Court.
The offense sputtered with two consecutive 3-and-outs, gaining just one yard on its first six plays. Meanwhile, Hilldale held the football for nearly eight minutes during an opening drive that lasted 13 plays, despite covering only 29 yards. The drive ended, however, with a botched 45-yard field goal attempt.
It was the last time that the Hornets threatened to score.
Two possessions later, facing third-and-13 from his own 36-yard line, Scott finally got the title party started with a 64-yard touchdown toss. The recipient, Kyle Helsley, bounced to the outside with a man to beat when twin brother Ryan delivered a crushing block to set him free.
It wouldn’t be the last time the Helsleys would collaborate on a scoring play.
Midway through the second quarter, offensive coordinator Randon Lowe saw fit to draw an ace from his sleeve. Scott took the first down snap, fired a pass to Kyle Helsley in the near flat. Kyle Helsley gathered, then heaved a 65-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Helsley, who corralled the pitch just outside the 10-yard line, out-stepped a defender, and strode into the end zone.
The Helsley-to-Helsley connection provided a drastic spike in momentum for the Indians, a stranglehold that was exacerbated by a rabid performance from interim head coach/defensive coordinator Shane Richardson’s defense.
Sequoyah pitched its first shutout since a 48-0 drubbing of Locust Grove last season. It did so by forcing the Hornets out of their comfort zone, creating repeated third-and-long situations — 10 in all — on which Hilldale managed to convert just once.
The Indians held running back Jamaul Cullom to just 31 yards on 11 carries, the Hornet offense in sum to a mere 169 yards of total offense — 77 yards in the second half. Karter Woodruff racked up 10 tackles. Cody Hooper intercepted two passes. Ryan Helsley intercepted a pass of his own, and forced a fumble at the tail end of Hilldale’s longest gain of the second half. Myhayv Locust, Greydon Elrod, Tyler Chaffin, Dillon Poe, Tanner Sheets and Woodruff each got to Hornets quarterback Chandler Puckett.
Hilldale’s first three drives of the second half ended in an Elrod sack, a Hooper interception, and a Helsley interception, respectively. The Hornets ran just 17 plays after halftime, holding the ball for 8:25 — 2:52 of the fourth quarter.
The discrepancy in time of possession was a result of both defensive efficiency and ball control on offense, as it pertained to Sequoyah. Following intermission, Lowe deployed a primarily heavy run package, chewing clock, and allowing his defensive line to rest.
A seven play, 75-yard drive cut the fourth quarter clock in half. It also put the game away when Robert Smith dove in from two yards to cap the series and push the lead to 21.
On the following possession, Hilldale punted with just over five minutes remaining. When they finally got the football back, Sequoyah was just 16 ticks away from a decisive district title taking. That’s because the Indians put together their longest drive of the contest, 4:16, before Scott found Ryan Helsley from 26 yards out to provide an appropriate and emphatic punctuation mark to the contest.
“It meant a lot to all of us to be out there playing,” Scott said. “Our coaching staff proved how great they are this week. Coach Randon Lowe called a phenomenal game. Coach Dewayne Hammer and Jarrod Hammer, coach Steve Cook and coach Phil Angeri, they were all so awesome for us this week. Coach Shane Richardson did a great job, and our defense was outstanding. I just can’t say enough about these coaches.”
This particular group has separated itself all season with its tight-knit nature and team-first approach. At no point was such selfless methodology as evident as it was Friday.
“This means the world to me and to all of us players,” said Scott. “We are the closest team that I have ever been a part of. Being a family can help you in the long run. I just want to say ‘thank you’ to all of the parents for the support. They know who they are. They mean so much to me.”
As for punctuating the week, Scott did just that moments later. As the final buzzer sounded and his teammates crowded the field, the senior quarterback instead raced to the bleachers where his father and embattled coach stood near the railing. Scott scaled the fence, climbed into the stands, and the pair shared the moment nonetheless.
“It was a really special moment,” said Scott. “It was the first time in a long time that I’ve been on the sideline without my dad there to talk to me, and I missed him. I missed having him there. I just wanted him to know that I love him, and this belongs to him. This district championship belongs to him just as much as it belongs to the rest of us.”
The district champion Sequoyah Indians finish up the regular season next week, on Senior Night, vs. Lincoln Christian. No word yet on whether taking his players to summer football camps will prevent the Cherokee Nation from allowing the winningest head coach in its program’s history from being on the field with his son, a four-year starter, and the winningest quarterback in program history.
Interim coach Shane Richardson was given a prepared statement to read following the game, and was prevented from otherwise commenting on his team’s performance.
Sequoyah 28, Hilldale 0
SEQ 7 7 0 14 - 28
HIL 0 0 0 0 - 0
SEQUOYAH — Kyle Helsley 64-yard pass from Brayden Scott (Forrest Cully kick), 0:39.
SEQUOYAH — Ryan Helsley 65-yard pass from Kyle Helsley (Cully kick), 5:59.
SEQUOYAH — Robert Smith 3-yard run (Cully kick), 6:31.
SEQUOYAH — Ryan Helsley 26-yard pass from Brayden Scott (Cully kick), 0:49.
First downs 14 10
Rush 7 5
Pass 5 3
Penalty 2 2
Rush Att-Yds 29-137 33-57
Pass Comp. 14 9
Pass Att. 25 23
INT’s thrown 0 3
Passing Yards 197 112
Total Yards 334 169
Punts-Avg. 6-37.5 5-31.8
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 2-1
Penalties-Yds 9-85 7-52
Sequoyah: Karter Woodruff 7-70; Kyle Helsley 7-43; Robert Smith 6-23; Niko Hammer 3-8; Brayden Scott 6-(-7). Hilldale: Jamaul Cullom 11-31; Seth Reheard 5-12; Josh Giem 2-10; C. Puckett 14-6; Miles Jackson 1-(-2).
Sequoyah: Brayden Scott 12-23-0-127; Kyle Helsley 2-2-0-70;.Hilldale: Puckett 9-23-3-112
Sequoyah: Kyle Helsley 4-58; Robert Smith 4-7; Ryan Helsley
3-108; Niko Hammer 2-15; Cody Hooper 1-9; Hilldale: B. Campbell 4-49; Miles Jackson 2-50; Josh Giem 2-15; Jamaul Cullom 1-(-2).