By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — The McAlester Buffaloes don’t have any more easy games left on their schedule. No more varsity players resting in the fourth quarter, and probably no more 11-touchdown offensive explosions that make life easy for the defense.
To win a state championship, the third-ranked Buffs will have to beat three of the best teams in 5A. They’ll face the Carl Albert Titans, the defending state champions from Midwest City and a team ranked second in 5A, tonight at Hook Eales Stadium.
“This is probably one of the best football games played here in years, and it’s going to be a big game,” Buffs coach Bryan Pratt said Tuesday.
“If you can’t get ready for this one, you have some issues. I think that our kids will be ready to play, and I think we’ll go out there and do a really good job.”
Senior quarterback Steve Thompson has been the Titans’ biggest offensive playmaker this season. Through 11 games this season he’s racked up more than 2,500 all-purpose offensive yards, rushing for 21 touchdowns and throwing for 15 more.
He’s completed 52 percent of this season and only thrown five interceptions in 150 attempts.
“They’re a really, really good football team, and he’s probably one of the top five players in the state, if not the best player in the state,” Pratt said of Thompson. “He’s one of those guys that’s just a great football player, and he’s definitely who we’re going to have to stop.”
Junior Dillon Lohr has been Thompson’s best receiver. Though he’s caught just 24 passes, Lohr’s turned them into 542 yards — an average of 22.6 yards per reception — and five touchdowns.
Carl Albert also has a quality running back in Chantz Woodbury. Through 11 games Woodbury has averaged 8.0 yards per carry and has eight rushing touchdowns.
Carl Albert lost just one game to a 5A opponent during the regular season, falling 28-21 to top-ranked Guthrie on Oct. 11. The Titans’ 429 total points this season puts them fifth among 5A offenses.
The highest-scoring offense in 5A? The McAlester Buffaloes.
“We don’t have one player that makes us as they do,” Pratt said.
“When you come around to us, it’s not like if you stop (quarterback Dalton Wood) running the football, you’re going to win. You have some other weapons that we’re going to be able to use that you better make sure that you’re stopping.”
Friday’s forecast, according to www.weather.com, calls for temperatures in the 30s, a 50 percent chance of rain and winds blowing up to 18 miles per hour. Though Pratt said the cold won’t affect his play-calling, freezing rain might force the Buffs to scale back their passing game in favor of the run.
McAlester’s offense will work against a Carl Albert defense that’s allowed just 184 points all season, the third fewest in 5A. Defensive end Cory Zangari has recorded three sacks this season, nose tackle Quenton Gentry has two and linebacker Dustin Blasingame has one.
“They’re good all around,” Pratt said. “They’re good everywhere. They don’t have a weakness on offense or defense.”
The Buffs haven’t had to play a full four quarters since beating Shawnee on Oct. 4. In every subsequent game their offense has so overwhelmed the opposition that coach Bryan Pratt has been able to regularly sub in second-stringers and JV players, sometimes as early as the start of the third quarter.
While this means the Buffs head into this game healthier and more rested, they also haven’t had their conditioning tested in more than a month.
The Buffs announced through social media that Carl Albert is expected to bring several busses’ worth of Titans fans to Hook Eales Stadium. To help maintain homefield advantage, the Buffs are looking for an even bigger turnout from the home crowd.
“I hope it’s a packed house no matter what the weather is,” Pratt said.
“A lot of people say this is like a state championship game that’s played in the second round.”
A win tonight means a return to the semifinals, where they’ll face either Pryor or Lawton MacArthur — two opponents that on paper look easier than Carl Albert.
The Titans could be the Buffs’ toughest opponent until the championship, and they face off tonight at 7 p.m.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.