By CRAIG HALL
POTEAU–It started bad for Poteau and only got worse.
Gravette recovered an onside kick to start the game and Poteau turned the ball over eight more times in a 31-16 loss. The loss wasn’t the only blow for the Pirates as Blake Johnson left the game in the third quarter with a broken leg.
The Pirates fumbled the ball away seven times, including the lost ball on the onside kick, along with two interceptions. Six of the turnovers came in the first half and Gravette lived in the Poteau end of the field, but could only score 19 points as the Pirates’ defense gave a great performance to keep the game close when it could have easily been a blowout.
Poteau’s defense actually outscored the offense in the first half as Kendrick Hardaway stopped one drive with an interception on the Pirates’ own 3 and returned it 97 yards for their only touchdown of the first half. Blake Williams kicked a 21-yard field goal earlier for the Pirates’ first score.
The Pirates’ defense was especially tough early, stopping several drives deep in their own territory against a potent Gravette offense.
The Lions put the game away with a touchdown late in the third quarter to up the lead to 25-10 before adding their final score midway through the fourth quarter to up the lead to 31-10.
Poteau’s offense, which looked so promising in the first two games while averaging 40 points in the two wins, finally came alive after Gravette’s final touchdown and scored with 3:39 left as Wilson Klutts hooked up with Jace Pitchford on a 33-yard touchdown pass. Pitchford had to fight for the ball with one of the Lions, but came up with the pass and scored.
Gravette took advantage of the Poteau turnovers to have a huge advantage in plays over the Pirates. The Lions ran 83 plays while Poteau only had 39 offensive plays.
Running back Darrick Strzelecki turned in an incredible night for the Lions. He carried the ball more times than Poteau snapped the ball, finishing the night with 45 carries for 193 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Poteau blasted Strzelecki the first few times he carried the ball, but the senior running back seemed to get stronger as the game wore on, never slowing down despite all the carries.
Gravette finished with 383 yards in total offense with 243 on the ground and 140 through the air. Poteau finished with 164 yards passing, but could only rush for 51 against a swarming Lion defense which was proficient at both punishing the Pirate backs and stripping the ball, although at least three of the fumbles were unforced.
Gravette is now 3-0 overall while Poteau drops to 2-1. The Pirates open district play at home next week against Hilldale.