Anthony Ward

Oscoda’s Anthony Ward breaks free for a big gain during Friday’s season ending victory over Houghton Lake.

OSCODA – The Oscoda football team got the win it needed over Houghton Lake Friday night. The playoff points they wanted weren’t there however, as the Owls, had to settle for a season ending 36-19 victory over the Bobcats. Oscoda, despite finishing with a 6-3 record, remained on the outside looking in from the playoffs, finishing in 41st in playoff points, while only the top 32 advance. 

“We won our last four games and I thought we did a great job offensively and defensively,” head coach Mark Whitley said. “After out slow start against Houghton lake, I think we really started to show our offense and defense came to play. It was great to win the last game, I think Houghton Lake is a good team every year.” 

The Bobcats scored the game’s opening touchdown and led 7-0 for most of the first half. With four seconds to play, quarterback Anthony Ward tossed a well-placed deep ball for Blake Mallak, who raced in 51-yards for the touchdown. A two-point conversion run by Chris Thompson gave Oscoda an 8-7 lead at the half.

“Ward sat back in the pocket and rolled a little bit right and he just had tons and tons of time and hit Mallak down the sideline in stride,” Whitley said. “That was huge and we go into the locker room with a completely different attitude. We are jacked and just ready to play, we didn’t even want to sit around at halftime we just wanted to get after it and that is a great feeling.” 

On Oscoda’s first drive of the third quarter, long runs by Ward and Damon Burrows helped set the Owls up with a first-and-goal at the nine. Ward took the first down play in for a nine-yard score, and he also cashed in the two-pointer for a 16-7 lead. 

Early in the fourth, Ward took the snap and raced down the right sidelines, narrowly keeping his feet in bounds and alluding a pair of would-be tacklers for a 23-yard touchdown run for a 24-7 advantage. 

Houghton Lake pulled within 24-13 with 8:18 to play in the contest, but the Owls finished the Bobcats off with a 33-yard touchdown run by Ward and an 11-yard touchdown run by Trevor Miller. Houghton Lake scored on a long touchdown run with about a minute to play, making the final a bit closer than it appeared. 

“I thought we came out really strong in the second half and started to click and once we get going like that, we are hard to stop,” Whitley said. “Ward led us offensively and anytime he touches the ball he is a threat to score; he will run around you or over you. He played phenomenal. (Our seniors) really came to play.”

Ward finished with 184 yards and three touchdowns on 24 rushing attempts and he was four-of-six passing for 76 yards and a touchdown. Mallak had two receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown. 

Oscoda opened the season 2-3, but rallied to win its final four games to get back in the playoff conversation; though they came up short of moving on.

“To put four games in a row like that, with three of them on the road, and not just down the road, I thought it was a really good way to end that way,” Whitley said. “Our kids played extremely hard and for the seniors to finish off the year and make a statement and say ‘hey, the program is here to stay’, I was really happy with our players performed for sure.

“We went 6-3 and I think our football community is a little bummed because we weren’t in the playoffs and I know I’m bummed for them, but I still believe we are one of the top 32 teams (in Division 7) and I just hope some adjustments are made (to the playoff point format) moving forward,” he added. “I’m one of those guys that say let’s let everyone in, if we ca have an eight game schedule and week nine the playoffs start, I am all for it.” 

Oscoda finishes the season 6-3 overall, for its fifth straight winning season, and sixth above-500 season 2015. 

“The kids know that that off-season makes the program and I’ll be in the weight room every night all winter long and it really helped us this year, I think we averaged 24 kids a night after school,” Whitley said. “As long as they keep buying into the weight room and getting better, that is when the league championships are won, so I’m looking forward to having a great group of kids come back. We have some talented kids coming up out of the middle school and our JV played pretty well this year too, so we have some talent coming in. I’m excited to see the program continue to spread and blossom and have fun.”

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