De Soto Paola High came to De Soto having lost twice in its first four football games, a team already significantly changed from its run to last year's Class 4A state championship game.
That didn't change anything for De Soto coach Brad Scott, however.
The Wildcats beat the Panthers, 33-14, Friday night, a victory Scott proclaimed as huge for his program.
Erik Hill threw for two touchdowns, Dylan Burford ran for two, and Shane Miller ran for 131 yards and a score in the second half as the Wildcats beat Paola to celebrate homecoming.
"I'm so proud of our kids right now. That's a big win for us - a big win," Scott said. "If you beat the state runner-up from the year before - I don't care who you are - that's a quality win."
Paola beat De Soto, 14-13, a year ago in a slow, ugly game, and it appeared fans were in store for another defensive slugging match early Friday. After the teams traded fumbles on their opening possessions, Paola rhythmically marched 26 plays for a touchdown. The Panthers covered 90 yards and converted three fourth downs before quarterback Adam Henn snuck it in from one yard.
De Soto broke the game open, however, employing a swarming defense and timely turnovers to prevent any more marathon drives - plus a big-play offense to gain the lead.
Hill completed a 17-yard screen pass to Burford, then hit Jamell Townsend for a 29-yard touchdown late in the second quarter, tying the game.
Paola had to punt on its first second-half possession, and Hill connected again, this time finding running back Josh Fisher on a screen pass for 27 yards and another score.
Three plays later, the Wildcats scooped up a fumble. Miller scampered 21 yards up the middle to the one-yard line, and Burford slammed it in the end zone for a 19-7 lead.
"When you play a good football team, you never know what the play is going to be that turns the football game," Scott said of the fumble recovery. "Looking back, that was the play because of what we did after it happened."
Paola answered with an 80-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, but Miller broke free again when De Soto got the ball back. He went 61 yards around the right side, bailing his team out of a second-and-19 hole and setting up his 11-yard touchdown run.
"It feels great," Miller said. "Coach has been harping on us about discipline. This week we did what he said, and it worked.
"This win helps us refocus. Our confidence is higher and now we're ready to go."
De Soto will travel Friday to Gardner-Edgerton.