COMANCHE — In football, turnovers are the one thing that can cause a coach to wonder it he got in the right profession. Too often, turnovers mean the difference between winning and losing, and fumbles are especially irritating, because so often they can be avoided.
At the same time, turnovers are also something a team can overcome. That was the case Thursday, when Comanche became the first team in The Banner area to get a victory in the 2011 season. Despite fumbling six times, including twice on their first two possessions of the first quarter, the Indians pulled away from longtime rival Velma-Alma, 46-28, at Harley Stadium.
Adding to the intrigue, the Tribe was able to pick up a win despite having veteran Garrison McCauley sidelined due to a thumb injury that required surgery.
There were several things that balanced out Comanche’s turnovers and the lack of McCauley, not the least of which was senior quarterback Johnny Heath, who rushed for 110 yards and four touchdowns, and also passed for 108 yards.
CHS head coach Steve Justus said that he wasn’t surprised at the numbers Heath put up.
“Johnny and the rest of our seniors are just great leaders out on the field,” he said. “We have come to expect those types of performances from him, because he is such a great athlete on the field.”
Although the Indians (1-0) opened a surprising, 22-6 lead by the end of the first half, VAHS (0-1) struck first, when quarterback Dallen Mercer connected with Checotah Lynn for a 37-yard touchdown three minutes into the game. A failed two-point conversion made the score 6-0, and that turned out to be the only lead for the Comets, who entered the season ranked No. 5 in Class A.
Comanche came back, thanks to Alex Tuttle’s 28-yard scoring dash that tied the game at 6-6 by the end of the first stanza.
Then came a decisive span in the second period, when CHS outscored VAHS, 16-0, on a pair of touchdowns from Heath. Heath and Clayton Fennell added 2-point conversion runs, and at halftime Comanche was in firm control at 22-6.
When the second half began, there was a sense of urgency on the V-A sideline, and the Comets were presented with a golden opportunity. On the opening kickoff, Comanche had yet another fumble, which the Comets recovered for good field position.
It took over four minutes, but the Comets’ cut the margin to 22-12 on a four-yard run by Dallen Mercer.
The Comets would never be closer, however, as the Tribe regrouped quickly behind two running plays. Fennell burst 17 yards, before Tuttle broke free on a 45-yard scoring jaunt. A 2-point conversion boosted CHS to a 30-12 edge.
Mercer and Checotah Lynn got some of the deficit back on one play, a 70-yard TD combination, and the lead was cut to 30-20 on a 2-point conversion run by Tyler Smith that ended the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Heath scored on a nine-yard run and Tuttle added a 2-point conversion run. The Comets countered on Mercer’s 32-yard scoring toss to Lynn, who tagged on a 2-point run that pulled V-A within 38-28.
The Indians iced with Heath’s final scores, a five-yard TD run and 2-point conversion.
A very telling stat for the Comets was having senior tailback Smith held to just 30 yards rushing. Head coach Greg Gothard said after the game that Tyler is still a little banged up and that his team will get better.
“Tyler’s only at about 80 percent right now, so he’s still a little injured. But he’ll be just fine,” Gothard said. “I thought he and the rest of the kids played well, it was just a matter of (the Indians) being inexperienced.
“Once the young guys get smarter, then that will really help us out.”
Both teams will return to action on Sept. 9 against top-10 opponents. Comanche will travel to No. 7 Ringling, while V-A will play host to No. 8 Wynnewood.