MIAMI — One game does not a season make, but Miami sure got 2018 off to a positive start.
The Wardogs got points in every quarter then turned in a momentum building defensive stand in the final two minutes to log a 24-10 win over Claremore Sequoyah here Friday, Aug. 24, in the debut of Zach Gardner as head coach.
It marked the first time the Wardogs had won a season opener since 2014 and it was the first time a Miami coach was a winner in his debut since 2001.
Miami topped Grove 31-13 in the 2014 opener that marked the Wardogs’ first game in the new-look Red Robertson Field.
The last time an MHS coach picked up a win in his debut was in 2001, when Shawn Booth guided the Dogs past Glenpool.
Sequoyah scored 62 seconds into the game following a fumble by quarterback Gavin Payton.
That brought back thoughts of a theme that nagged the Wardogs throughout the 2017 season.
“I didn’t really have that feeling ever, but obviously I hadn’t been here in the past, but I thought our kids kept their composure really well,” Gardner said. “We went down and tied it to get it back even keel then we were tied at halftime.”
Miami was faced with a dicey situation with time running out in the first half.
The Eagles tied the game at 10 with a 32-yard field goal with 46.6 seconds remaining.
Then they recovered a high onside kick at the Miami 30.
The Eagles reached the MHS 19-yard line, but defensive back Joseph Armstrong intercepted a pass with 23.1 seconds left.
“Our defense made a stand to leave the ballgame tied at 10,” Gardner said. “We really made the momentum change back to our side, then they weren’t able to convert.
“I felt we had an advantage just the way our kids carried themselves and the body language.”
The Wardogs took the lead for good with 6:03 left in the third when Payton teamed with Jordon Freeman on a 21-yard strike.
Caden Folks then drove a dagger into the Eagles’ heart when he scored on a 2-yard burst with 2:00 remaining.
Sequoyah took the ensuing kickoff and made it to the Wardog 10 before turning the ball over on downs.
Payton completed only five of his 11 passes, but one was for the touchdown.
He also ran the ball a team-high 16 times, netting 53 yards and another score.
“Gavin did a good job managing the game,” Gardner said.
Folks added 81 yards and a score on 12 carries and Freeman averaged 5.8 yards on 10 tries.
Miami had the proverbial “bend but don’t break” attitude on defense while trying to negate the Eagles trapping game.
“That’s a tough offense to defend,” Gardner said. “It’s deceiving things and a lot of guessing going on, but our kids really responded to the physicality of it.
“We got them out of their comfort zone when they had to start into a throwing game. We knew if we made them pass that wasn’t their expertise. We stayed in a prevent defense and didn’t break.”
The Eagles finished with 273 yards in total offense, with 226 of that coming on the ground.
They were 9 of 16 passing with the interception.
“It seemed we tackled better than we did last week (in a scrimmage with Locust Grove and Dewey),” Gardner said. “We’re getting better, but still not where we need to be.”
The win was personally the 15th straight for Gardner, who guided Afton to a 14-0 season and a Class A state title.
Two of his assistants in the Eagles’ program — Adam Teal and Zach Henry — accompanied Gardner to Miami.
Plus in a bit of irony, albeit unintended, the shoes of Skyler Judd — who had a 35-yard field goal midway through the second quarter and was successful on all three of his extra point attempts — were Afton orange.
“Winning always is good, but they say success breeds success,” Gardner said. “It’s a great feeling tonight, but we need to take it to our advantage. We have the kids right where we need them right now. They believe in themselves and know we believe in them. A lot of good things can come from that.”
Miami opens the home half of the schedule Friday, Aug. 31 against Jay.