WARDSVILLE — It had been two months since the Blair Oaks Falcons had been challenged, but they were in a tough battle Friday night in the Class 3 District 5 championship.
With the score tied at 7 at halftime, it was time for an adjustment. And it was a gamechanger.
Blair Oaks scored on the second play of the second half and never looked back, winning its fifth straight district championship with a 35-7 victory against the Buffalo Bison.
"I'm really excited about our second half," Blair Oaks coach Ted LePage said. "We came in at halftime and said, 'Hey, play. Just play.'
"Buffalo came here and gave us everything they got and everything they had. After halftime, we went out and got that first score, and now we had that energy."
Blair Oaks opened the game with a three-and-out on defense, then scored on its first possession. The Falcons ended an 11-play, 65-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run by Riley Lentz on fourth-and-goal. Zach Herigon added the first of his five extra points to put Blair Oaks ahead 7-0 with 6:44 left in the first quarter.
Buffalo answered with its own long touchdown drive. The Bison converted on third down three times and finished an 11-play, 74-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run by Coltin Henderson. Bode Abraham's extra point tied the game at 7 with :29.5 to play in the opening quarter.
It was the first touchdown allowed by Blair Oaks' first-string defense since the second quarter of the Falcons' Week 3 game against Boonville, snapping a streak of 34 consecutive scoreless quarters from the starters.
"I still think it comes to the relationships that are built between the players and coaches, that there's a lot of trust there," LePage said.
Neither team scored in the second quarter. Blair Oaks threw an interception on the first play of the second quarter and lost a fumble on the Buffalo 25-yard line on its next offensive possession.
Buffalo lost a fumble that was recovered by Jayden Purdy on the Bison 19-yard line, then punted with less than a minute to play in the half.
Blair Oaks outgained Buffalo 135-119 in the first half, but the Bison held onto the ball for 17:04, compared to 6:56 for the Falcons.
"The two turnovers really hurt us," LePage said. "They did a good job of controlling the clock."
After failing to lead at halftime for the first time all season, the Falcons spent the 15-minute intermission going over adjustments.
"What we did in the first half defensively is we ran up the field a little too much," LePage said. "In the second half, we really stayed on the line of scrimmage, stayed in our lanes and made them really have to make plays."
Cobi Marble began the second half with a 23-yard run on a jet sweep. Dylan Hair followed with a 35-yard keeper for a touchdown on the next play, giving the Falcons a 14-7 lead less than a minute into the third quarter.
Blair Oaks had a turnover on downs on its next drive, but the Falcons would score on each of their next three possessions.
Hair picked up his 17th rushing touchdown of the season with a 29-yard keeper to make the score 21-7 midway through the third quarter. The freshman followed that with his 31st and 32nd passing touchdowns of the season.
Hair's two longest pass plays of the game both went for touchdowns in the fourth quarter. On third-and-13, he connected with Jake Closser for a 36-yard touchdown. Carson Prenger then caught a 37-yard touchdown pass on a slant to extend the lead to 35-7 with 4:47 to play in the game.
"They took a little pride in going out and scoring 28 points in the second half," LePage said.
Buffalo had five possessions in the second half, coming up empty on each of them. In addition to a fumble recovery by Ian Nolph and an interception by Levi Haney for Blair Oaks, the Bison turned the ball over on downs twice and punted once.
Buffalo (9-3) finished with 202 yards of offense. Henderson led the rushing attack with 19 carries for 71 yards.
Blair Oaks had 205 yards rushing and totaled 401 yards.
Hair was 16-of-21 passing for 196 yards and added 11 carries for 93 yards, totaling four touchdowns. Closser was his leading receiver with six catches for 104 yards, surpassing 1,000 yards receiving for the season.
Blair Oaks (12-0), which won its 16th district title in the last 19 seasons, advances to the Class 3 quarterfinals. The Falcons will host the Cassville Wildcats at 1 p.m. next Saturday.
Cassville (10-2) won the District 6 championship Friday with a 30-20 home victory against Seneca. The Wildcats were ranked No. 10 in the final regular-season poll of the Missouri Media Rankings, while the Falcons hold the No. 1 ranking.