GUTHRIE, Okla. — Enid had its chances late to pull off the come-from-behind victory against Guthrie in the season-opener, but numerous mistakes early cost the Plainsmen a chance to give first-year head coach Rashaun Woods a win in his debut.
"I don't know what it was at the beginning," Enid starting quarterback Maddux Mayberry said after Friday's 23-21 loss. "Just nervous? I don't know."
Trailing by two with less than four minutes remaining, the Plainsmen offense had an opportunity to tie the score with a 2-point conversion attempt. Mayberry took the snap and rolled to his right, but his pass fell incomplete in the end zone well behind the intended target.
Enid's defense, which held Guthrie to 215 yards of total offense, was able to give its offense another chance — this time to take the lead — after forcing the Bluejays into a three-and-out. The Plainsmen began their final drive at their own 43 with 2:37 left on the clock.
On its previous scoring drive, Enid's offense put together an 89-yard march to the north end zone in less than six minutes. However, Guthrie's defense, led by head coach Kelly Beeby, was determined to stop the Plainsmen's momentum.
The Bluejays forced Enid into a fourth-and-11 where they proceeded to sack Mayberry eight yards behind the line. As a result, Guthrie took over on downs with 1:14 remaining.
Although Mayberry and the Enid offense were unable to complete the rally, the first-time starter was pleased with how the team never backed down.
"We kept fighting the entire game," he said. "We just got to come out strong. That's the key."
Just as it was a year ago, ball security was an issue for Enid in their matchup against Guthrie. In last season's opener, the Plainsmen had a combined seven turnovers —three interceptions, four fumbles lost. The Bluejays took five of those back for an immediate touchdown.
On Friday, Enid turned the ball over twice, and it was Guthrie's offense that capitalized.
Enid coughed up the ball on its opening drive before Bluejays quarterback Kaiden Ballard-Stevenson scored on a 1-yard rush for the game's first points.
The Plainsmen's next offensive possession was constrained by issues with the snap. One ball went over the head of Mayberry, who avoided disaster by tracking it down and heaving it out-of-bounds with a receiver in the area.
Later in the same drive, another snap was off target and forced Enid to punt. Once again the ball sailed over the head of punter Johnny Villa and out the back of the end zone for a safety. The error gave Guthrie a 9-0 lead with 5:43 left in the first quarter.
The Bluejays added to their advantage after getting the ball back. This time it was running back Josh Rains who punched it in for the 1-yard touchdown carry. Following the extra-point, Guthrie led 16-0.
After a muffed punt return by the Bluejays, Enid was able to recover and eventually scored its first points of the 2019 season in the second quarter.
Mayberry connected with wide receiver Daigen Gibbens for a 28-yard touchdown to put the Plainsmen on the board. Gibbens finished with a game-high five receptions for 86 yards and two scores.
Coming out of the halftime break, Guthrie answered with a 9-play, 63-yard drive capped off by another touchdown rush by Rains. The score would be the Bluejays last of the game as Enid outscored Guthrie 14-0 in the fourth quarter.
The Bluejays defense appeared to lose a bit of its edge in the final 15 minutes as players at all three levels had their hands on their hips trying to catch a breath.
"We started hitting their soft spots and it was starting to click," Mayberry said.
Plainsmen running back Trent Mitchell opened the Plainsmen's scoring run with a 1-yard touchdown rush before a 2-point conversion pass between Mayberry and Gibbens made it a one-possession game, 23-15.
Despite Enid's ability to respond to adversity, Plainsmen head coach Rashaun Woods was clear on what cost his team a chance at staying in the game from the start.
"We made too many mistakes," he said.
Mayberry was visibly frustrated near Enid's team buses after the game. He felt the Plainsmen defense did what they could, but the offense's slow start put the team in a hole it couldn't quite crawl out of.
"The only expectation I had was to win," Mayberry said. "We got close, but we didn't get that expectation."
The Plainsmen return to Enid next Friday for a matchup against long time rival Ponca City. Enid's only win last season was against the Wildcats, 20-13.
"We'll just keep that pace going into Ponca (City) next week," Mayberry said. "That's all we can ask for right now."