By Christian Potts
OOLOGAH - Metro Christian started fast and finished strong, and now a perfect season and another gold ball are just one more win away.
The Patriots scored on seven of their first eight offensive possessions and never trailed in a 49-35 victory against Lincoln Christian in the semifinals of the Class 3A playoffs Friday night at Oologah High School.
Their senior quarterback Kirk Francis stood tall, throwing for 450 yards and five touchdowns.
Well, he stood tall until he didn't. Francis spent several minutes as teammates and fans celebrated around him after the game kneeling, hands over his eyes, tears and emotion flowing as he clutched the game ball and the moment really started to sink in.
"It's everything that you work for," Francis said. "Every single summer workout, all those long practices, I couldn't ask for a better group of guys to go through this with. I love this team so much."
And as much as Francis has his teammates' backs, they have his, on and off the field.
"He's the best quarterback in the state," said Tagg Campbell, who added a pair of rushing touchdowns for Metro. "He brings that intensity to practice every day. He's such a great leader."
The Patriots wanted to start fast, and start fast they did. On the game's first possession, Francis opened with four straight completions on an 80-yard drive, capped by a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jaxson Grimes.
Mario Darrington intercepted Lincoln quarterback Luke Milligan on the next series, and then Francis found Grimes for a 16-yard score and a 14-0 lead.
Again the Metro defense came through, forcing and recovering a fumble. And two plays after that, Francis and senior Breck Nauman hooked up for a 48-yard score. Less than a quarter in, Metro had a 21-0 lead, and Lincoln never again got closer than two touchdowns.
"We knew that getting the ball first, we were going to have to go make a statement and jump right on them," Francis said. "We knew that they were really well-coached, we knew they were really dynamic and they were going to get their points.
"We just had to get out in front of it and prevent them from getting theirs before ours."
The Bulldogs showed plenty of fight, piling up some big offensive numbers of their own. After trailing 28-14 at the half, Lincoln twice fought back from three-score deficits and cut the lead to 42-28 early in the fourth quarter when Milligan scrambled in from 9 yards out for a score.
But Metro came back less than two minutes later. Facing third-and-8 from the Metro 22, Francis hit Nauman along the left sideline.
He spun loose from a defender, turned and saw nothing but green turf. Nauman was in the end zone 78 yards later for his third score of the night and a 49-28 lead.
"I actually got the wrong play call," Nauman admitted, "But me and Kirk have a really good chemistry, so I came out of my break and caught the ball, and I expected a lot of other people to be there, but it was open so I just took off from there."
Lincoln answered on John Washington's third touchdown run of the game 4:21 from the finish, then held Metro on downs late when Griffin Dyer broke up a fourth-down pass from Francis that nearly went for Nauman's fourth score.
But the Bulldogs were thwarted in the closing minute from any slight hopes when Campbell intercepted Milligan at the goal line, the third forced turnover of the game for Metro.
All night, Campbell and Darrington had keyed the Patriots' pass defense from their efforts at cornerback against a Lincoln offense that has lit up many an opponent this season.
"Not very many people thought we could beat Lincoln, but we prepared well all week, and we believed in ourselves," Darrington said. "It's an amazing feeling."
Francis threw more touchdown passes than incompletions - he completed 21-of-25 passes for 450 yards and five scores. Nauman had an equally massive night, catching nine of those passes for 261 yards and three scores.
The numbers are all the more impressive because Lincoln's first-team defense had only given up three scores in the team's last eight games.
Lincoln's own offensive numbers were almost on par with Metro's, as the Bulldogs were barely out-gained, 537-534 overall.
Milligan, who had a stellar junior season as the Lincoln signal-caller, finished 19-of-32 for 317 yards and a score, while Washington carried 23 times for 137 yards and three scores. Senior Cam Dooley also had a big night, catching six passes for 159 yards and a touchdown.
But the biggest numbers in any football game are those on the scoreboard. And at night's end, for a 13th straight game, they added up in the favor of the Patriots.
"I was so proud of how we answered and responded," Francis said. "I couldn't be more proud of my guys, from start to finish, coming out like that."
Metro claimed the 2A state championship in 2019 and 2020, when this group of seniors were freshmen and sophomores. Now they're on a mission to finish their last high school season together on top again in Class 3A.
"We're senior-led all the way across, and we won two state championships before, so I think that experience is everything you could ask for, it's priceless," Francis said. "Having those guys in the locker room with me, saying keep pushing, even when it gets hard. We know that this is what we come to and this is why we work."
"We've been there before, so we know what it takes to win," Nauman said. "We're just ready to go take care of business and go get another gold ball."
That chance comes at 7 p.m. Thursday at the University of Central Oklahoma, when the Patriots will face Heritage Hall, a 41-20 winner against Verdigris.