WARDSVILLE — The Blair Oaks Falcons were facing an unfamiliar situation Friday night. For the first time in 27 games, they didn't have the lead at halftime.
It hadn't been the best of first halves for Blair Oaks, especially considering the Buffalo Bison maintained possession of the ball for 17:04 of the 24 minutes of play in a 7-all tie.
It was a gut punch the Falcons hadn't taken for quite some time.
"I think it was beneficial," Blair Oaks senior Kamron Morriss said. "I think it helped us calm ourselves down and make us come down to earth, that maybe we're not all that."
Halftime became a 15-minute re-evaluation period for the Falcons, and they made the most of it, both offensively and defensively.
Blair Oaks scored four second-half touchdowns, while the defense kept the Bison out of the end zone the rest of the way in a 35-7 victory in the Class 3 District 5 championship at the Falcon Athletic Complex.
"We all needed to refocus, and just do what we do," Morriss said.
The regrouping at intermission was necessary for Blair Oaks. Although the Bison had just 119 yards of offense — all rushing — in the first half, their misdirection in the run game had become a problem for the Falcons.
As it turns out, a simple film review did the trick.
"The key is you've got to go with your alignment, where your lineman goes," Blair Oaks coach Ted LePage said. "In the second half, you saw a couple of our D-linemen go (to their assignment), and (Buffalo) had nowhere to run.
"It's just more of a settle down, breathe and believe what you see. It's hard to believe what you see out of that offense because it's so tight, and everything's moving around fast."
Blair Oaks was able to slow down Buffalo's offense, get some stops and a few turnovers, and silence a team that was averaging nearly 42 points entering Friday's game.
"Nobody said anything at halftime that was out of context or out of the ordinary," LePage said. "It was just more of a coach-player talking relationship, and the players believing what the coaches told them and executing it.
"Halftime was big for us because it allowed our coaches to re-affirm and say, 'Here's what we're doing, just do it the way we're supposed to.'"
Buffalo rushed for 49 yards — and benefited from 25 penalty yards by Blair Oaks — on its touchdown drive in the first quarter. The Bison ran the ball effectively again on their next possession, only to lose a fumble in the red zone.
At times, Blair Oaks put five players on the defensive line in an attempt to slow down the Buffalo rushing attack.
"I think we underestimated them a little bit," said Morriss, who has transitioned from linebacker to defensive lineman in the past few weeks. "Their line was pushing us all around and they were running on us."
In the second half, Buffalo put together one long possession behind the success of its run game, but Blair Oaks forced a turnover on downs on the opening play of the fourth quarter. The Bison didn't have much of a chance after that, trailing 21-7.
"Their only three losses are to three teams that are undefeated," LePage said of Buffalo, which lost to Ava and Fair Grove in the regular season. "They have beaten the living tar out of some people this year."
The first-quarter touchdown was the first points allowed by Blair Oaks' first-string defense since the second quarter of the Week 3 game against Boonville, more than two months ago. Teams are averaging just 7.6 points against Blair Oaks this season, and the Pirates are the last team to score 10-plus against the Falcons.
"We knew there was a point where the streak was going to be broken," LePage said. "The nice thing for us, though, they didn't let that devastate them. I think it invigorated them more to play better defense."
The Blair Oaks offense had averaged 32.5 points in the first half this season, so the Falcons came out of halftime to prove Friday's first half was an anomaly.
It took just two plays into the second half for the Falcons to score on a 35-yard run by Dylan Hair.
"Players came out thinking we're going to score," LePage said. "I know that I heard more than once, 'We've scored 50 points in a half already this year. Seven isn't acceptable.' I think they took a little pride in going out and scoring 28 points in the second half."
Hair added a 29-yard touchdown run later in the third quarter to double the Blair Oaks lead to 21-7.
"We started off a little slow, but after halftime, we put it in gear and had to go," Hair said.
In addition to completing 16-of-21 passes for 196 yards, the Blair Oaks freshman quarterback added 11 carries for 93 yards.
"Dylan is so dynamic with his running ability," LePage said. "He throws the ball extremely well, but his running ability is just off the charts."
However, Hair's arm put the game out of reach, starting with a 36-yard touchdown pass to Jake Closser on third-and-13 early in the fourth quarter.
"They only had one safety on that one I threw to Jake," Hair said. "I just had to take advantage of that."
Hair added another touchdown pass, a 37-yard throw to Carson Prenger, with 4:47 to play to make the score 35-7.
The Falcons had 135 yards of offense in the first half, but they finished the game with 401 yards, surpassing 400 yards of offense for the seventh time this season.
"Coach (Lerone) Briggs, when we went up 21-7, he said, 'We need this. We don't need to be blowing everybody out every week,'" LePage said. "We played Maryville in a tight game, we played Oak Grove, then we played Boonville. Since then, even though it's been tight games as coaches, I don't think our players have really felt that immediacy.
"Tonight, we felt that immediacy and responded."
Buffalo ends its season with a 9-3 record — its second straight nine-win season under coach Ed Phillips — and falls short of its first district title since 2000.
Blair Oaks (12-0), which won its 16th district title in the last 19 seasons, will host Cassville (10-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Class 3 quarterfinals. The Falcons are No. 1 in Class 3 in the Missouri Media Rankings, while the Wildcats are ranked 10th.
"No. 3 (on our list) is done," LePage said, referring to winning a district title. "Now we can start talking about No. 4.
"No. 4 goes through next week. I told our players that you can look at everything you want, but Cassville is next on our list, and that's it. You can't look any further than that."