Kale Jackson didn't know the ball was his for several moments.
But Jackson, Deer Creek's senior receiver, wasn't about to let the ball get away.
Jackson wrestled it away from a defender, giving Class 5A No. 5 Deer Creek a huge momentum shift early in the fourth quarter as the Antlers upset No. 1 McGuinness 25-12 at Pribil Stadium on Friday night.
“It was crazy,” Jackson said. “Me and the other dude just jumped up and I guess I just came out with it. It was a fight though.”
The 32-yard completion on third and 15 gave the Antlers the ball inside the 5. One play later, they scored to take the lead for good.
The reward for the win?
The District 5A-2 championship.
“It's almost like a dream,” linebacker Austin Loomis said. “Our goal is to win a state championship and to do this gives us all the confidence in the world.
“It's incredible what this team has accomplished.”
Deer Creek (9-1) opens the playoffs at home against Ardmore on Friday. McGuinness (9-1) will play host to Duncan on Friday.
The Antlers' reaction was a far cry from two weeks ago, when Deer Creek let a two-touchdown halftime lead slip away and fell to Guthrie 42-35 in overtime in a game that featured several controversial calls.
Deer Creek took lessons form that finish and used them late to hold off the Irish.
“We learned that nothing outside should be able to change the game,” said Antlers running back Brennan Miyake, who scored the go-ahead touchdown. “We went off that game on a positive note and put the same effort forward tonight.”
After holding McGuinness to a three-and-out on the drive after Jackson's catch, Alec James scored on a 42-yard run to put the Antlers up by 13.
The score was important because Deer Creek needed to win by at least six to take the district title.
McGuinness hadn't allowed a point since September but it was Deer Creek's defense that came up with the key plays. Defensive back Caden Sander had a pair of interceptions in the final 8:30 to seal the win.
“Our defense felt like they had something to prove tonight,” quarterback Joel Blumenthal said. “I feel like they're the best in the state and they played like it tonight.”
The Irish held McGuinness star wide receiver Cody Chancellor to three catches for 33 yards. Deer Creek coach Grant Gower attributed the performance in part to the scout-team work put in by a couple of Antlers offensive standouts.
Blumenthal simulated McGuinness quarterback Jacob Lewis in practice during the week while No. 3 receiver Jacob Anderson had the assignment of playing Chancellor in practice.
“He's so talented and so athletic that we knew we had to have a big game out of our defensive backs to beat them,” Gower said. “We had to force him to make catches with two or three guys on them and we did that.”