Playoff games are often decided by turnovers and that was certainly the case for Winona Christian on Friday night against Indianola. The Stars committed five turnovers and gave up five sacks as Indianola took a 35-28 win in the Class 3A semifinals on Friday night.
With the loss, the Stars end the year with a 9-3 record and cap off one of the most successful seasons in school history.
Veteran coach Junior Graham knew exactly what the difference in the game was.
“It was all about turnovers, no doubt about it,” Graham said. “That was the difference in the game and in our season really. We had 25 turnovers and 12 in the three games that we lost. If we could teach these kids to worry about the football as much as they do their cell phones, we would probably still be playing. We turned it over five times and they scored on four of them. Self-inflicted wounds will kill you every time.”
The Colonels took an early lead as they scored on a 5-yard run and led 7-0. But Choyce Diffey responded with a spectacular 75-yard kickoff return and John White hit Latham Hill on the two-point conversion as Winona took an 8-7 lead.
After forcing an Indianola punt, the Stars gave the Colonels an easy score on a 25-yard fumble return for a touchdown. The PAT was good and Indianola led 14-8 at the end of the first.
Winona scored two straight touchdown as White hit Dalton Wiggins on a 31-yard touchdown pass. The try for two failed and Winona tied the game at 14-14.
The Stars took the lead as Hayden Self scored on an 8-yard run and the try for two failed as Winona led 20-14 midway through the second quarter. Indianola scored on a 2-yard run before the half and took a 21-20 lead into the half.
“The Stars just didn’t line up,” Graham said. “Indianola played extremely well and gave us a different look as far as the way they played our receivers with their corners. Choyce got a lot of attention and they sold out to take him away from us early.”
Indianola scored two more touchdowns in the third quarter on runs of 8 and 2 yards as they built a 35-20 lead.
Winona’s last score came early in the fourth on a 3-yard run by White, who also scored on the two-point conversion to cut the lead to 35-28.
“We got a fumble at midfield and were down 35-28 with about six or seven minutes left in the game,” Graham said. “But our center got hurt and we mishandled the snap. We missed a good opportunity there. We had moved the ball effectively the drive before and I thought we had a good chance to go down and tie it up right there.”
The Stars had 93 yards rushing and 124 passing for 217 total yards. Wiggins had 65 yards rushing on 11 carries and 55 yards receiving on five catches. Diffey had 66 yards receiving. White was 10-of-14 passing for 124 yards. Ben Pinkard, Bradley Pinkard and Latham Hill each had six tackles apiece.
“That’s the thing, we probably had 60 yards in sacks,” Graham said. “If we don’t have the sacks, John probably has 100 yards rushing. And as he matures and gets older, he’ll learn to get rid of those balls. He had a good game running, it just didn’t show in the stats because of the sacks.”
Graham said after looking back on the season, it was one he will remember.
“On the flip side, we had a really good year,” Graham said. “We had very limited expectations at the beginning of the year. We were 10 points from being undefeated. We lose a lot, but we return a lot as well and are excited about the future.”