COALFIELD — Oneida turned the ball over on the first play from scrimmage, and on the last play from scrimmage. In between, the Indians turned it over five more times — seven turnovers in all, allowing arch-rival Coalfield to escape with a 22-14 win in a game that was otherwise controlled by Oneida.

Playing in front of a regional television audience on Halloween night, the Indians’ defense was as good as it has been at any point in the 2019 season. In fact, after Coalfield twice took advantage of a turnover-shortened field to jump to a 16-0 lead just three minutes into the game, the Yellow Jackets did not score another offensive touchdown the rest of the way. Their final score was a pick-six in the waning minutes.

Along the way, Oneida (6-4) dominated the stat sheet, finishing with 262 total yards to 118 for Coalfield (7-3), and with 17 first downs to the Yellow Jackets’ five.

In fact, senior running back Bryson Buttram out-performed Coalfield’s offense all on his own, powering for 155 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 30 carries.

But, in the end, turnovers were the most important stat. The Yellow Jackets were +5 in that category, which led to all 22 of their points and enabled them to finish +8 on the scoreboard.

Oneida’s sixth turnover of the night was an interception that was returned for a touchdown after the Indians’ were forced to go to the air late, down 16-14. But the defense turned in another big play on Coalfield’s two-point conversion attempt that would’ve sealed it, leaving the door open for the Indians’ offense.

Senior quarterback Elijah West then engineered a long drive to give the Indians an opportunity to force overtime. After a long kick return into Coalfield territory was negated by a penalty — several flags and lack thereof had Indian fans and coaches irate in the fourth quarter — West began to march his team down the field. Two 15-yard penalties on the Yellow Jackets helped the Indians move closer, before West lobbed a deep ball that was hauled in by senior tight end Hunter Barnhart just two feet away from the goal line.

With 13 seconds and no time outs remaining, Oneida opted to jump into the shotgun and look to throw. Finding no one open, West pulled the ball down and raced for the end zone, but was stopped short. In the desperation attempt to get the ball across the goal line, a fumble resulted. It didn’t matter, as time would have expired anyway, and Coalfield escaped with the win.

Afterwards, Oneida coach Tony Lambert explained that the plan was to throw on first down, with an unsuccessful pass stopping the clock and still leaving time for a running play.

“I don’t fault (the play call),” Lambert said. “We just got to discharge the ball and get it out of bounds. We just gotta do a better job teaching our kids what to do in those situations.”

On a cold night with gusty winds and sloppy field conditions, both teams struggled to throw the ball and to hang onto it at times. That was evident from the outset, as Oneida mishandled the opening kickoff, then fumbled the ball away on the first play from scrimmage.

Coalfield recovered at the 11-yard-line, and nearly saw Oneida hold before quarterback Peyton McKinney found the end zone on a 9-yard run on fourth down. McKinney completed a pass to Anthony Foster for the two-point conversion and an early 8-0 lead.

Another fumble on the Indians’ second possession gave Coalfield the ball at the 37-yard-line, and Foster scored on a 5-yard run seconds later to push the lead to 16-0 after a conversion pass from McKinney to Austyn Hensley. Coalfield was up multiple touchdowns before the Indians had run a second down play.

Oneida fumbled the ball away yet again on the third possession of the game, but the Indians’ defense began to find their sea legs, and Coalfield would manage only 72 yards of offense the rest of the game.

Midway through the second quarter, Oneida found the end zone for the first time, putting together an 11-play, 55-yard drive before Buttram scored from a yard out. West and Trace Sexton hooked up for the two-point conversion, cutting Coalfield’s lead to 16-8.

The Indians got the ball back and had an opportunity to cut into the lead even more just before the half. Out of time outs, the Indians found themselves stopped in the field of play and, rather than try to race on the field goal unit for a relatively long kick, Oneida lobbed the ball to the back of the end zone. The pass was intercepted by Coalfield as time expired.

After stopping Coalfield to start the third quarter, Oneida put together another scoring drive, with Buttram scoring on a 2-yard run. Coalfield stopped the conversion attempt, holding on to a 16-14 lead.

That’s the way things stood into the fourth quarter. Oneida had multiple opportunities to win the game, but Coalfield’s defense stiffened and began to shut down the Indians’ running game, which had been successful most of the night.

With Coalfield moving the football near midfield late in the game, the Yellow Jackets fumbled the ball. Colby Boyatt recovered, and the Indians had a short field and an opportunity for a go-ahead touchdown or field goal.

But the Indians’ fifth turnover of the night resulted on a fumble, as Coalfield averted disaster. 

Again the Indians held, forcing Coalfield to punt. But, with just over two minutes remaining and needing to go 84 yards for a score, Oneida was forced to go to the air, and the first down pass was intercepted by Jacob Bunch, who returned it nearly 30 yards for a score, putting his team ahead 22-14.

“Our kids played so hard,” Lambert said. “They clawed and fought their way back into it. But hats off to Coalfield. They came to play, too.”

Lambert was complimentary of his defense, which shut down Coalfield’s offensive effort.

“I thought we played our tail off on defense tonight, trying to eliminate the big plays,” he said. “I felt like for the most part we kept the big plays in check. You can’t give Coalfield a short field with an explosive quarterback like that.”

Ultimately, the turnovers spelled the Indians’ doom in a game they played well enough to win.

“Basically here’s what you’ve got: in the opening moments and in the closing moments, things didn’t go the way we needed them to go to win the game,” Lambert said. “You can’t be a good football team and do that.”