One of the phrases Deer Creek coach Grant Gower preaches to his team is “Believe and Finish.”
The Antlers did both Friday night at home, getting over the hurdle of beating one of the most tradition-rich teams in Class 5A, downing Carl Albert 21-7.
“When you see it come to fruition, that's what kind of validates all of the work you've been putting in,” Gower said. “Our young men believed that and made the next step tonight. I'm so proud of them.”
Deer Creek entered district play the last two years believing it could hang with the top teams in its district — Carl Albert and Guthrie. But those hopes were quickly dashed, losing by 24 or more points in each of those four games.
Friday, though, No. 4 Deer Creek kept its name in the discussion of the top teams in the class by dominating defensively, especially in the second half, and doing enough offensively to hold off the Titans and improve to 4-0 overall and 1-0 in District 5A-1.
“We knew we could do it all along but we had to prove it,” quarterback Joel Blumenthal said. “Respect is earned, not given, and we had to go out and earn it.”
After eighth-ranked Carl Albert (1-3) struck early to take the lead, Deer Creek's defense clamped down and virtually shut down the Titans' offense.
“They were phenomenal,” Deer Creek receiver Jared Rayburn said. “Everybody had to do our jobs to be able to pull this one off.”
The Antlers took the lead in the third quarter on Rayburn's 34-yard touchdown reception from Blumenthal, who checked into the play after reading the Titans' coverage.
“In the slot where I'm at now, they really can't double cover me,” Rayburn said. “We were supposed to run a post route and he looked over at me and I was like, ‘OK, let's go.' Then it just worked out perfectly.”
Rayburn had eight catches for 95 yards.
Dillon Noble hit a pair of field goals — a 35-yarder early and a 39-yarder in the fourth quarter.
Blumenthal then put the game away with a 39-yard touchdown pass to Alec James with just more than two minutes remaining.
“It's unbelievable to finally get through this and to finally be at this level,” running back Brennan Miyake said. “We know what it feels like to knock off one of these teams. It's the best feeling I've ever had but I want it to keep getting better. I want to get another one in December.”
While the Antlers said all around that there was plenty of more work to be done, they all acknowledged the significance of knocking off a team that has 10 state titles.
“It's a relief but at the same time we expected to come out here and play our best,” Deer Creek's Brandon Wackerly said. “We wanted our all to be good enough and it was tonight. This means big things for this program.”