McALESTER — Practicing against yourself quickly turns into a grind. And while scrimmages offer a taste of competition, when it comes to football, nothing quite compares to an actual game.
The McAlester Buffaloes head to Stillwater tonight for their first game of the season.
“Now it’s a lot more fun,” Buffs coach Bryan Pratt said. “We put a lot of time and effort in and we demand a lot out of the kids. ... Now that the season’s started, it’s more of a reward.”
The Buffs hosted Stillwater in last year’s season opener, losing 42-18. Quarterback Dalton Wood left that game midway through the first quarter and never returned, forcing McAlester to abandon its game-plan.
Wood’s back at quarterback this season. While he’s looked better than he did at this point a year ago, Pratt said the team won’t really know where Wood’s at until he faces the Pioneers.
“We’ll be able to tell after Friday night, but as far as putting in the time and effort, he’s done that,” Pratt said of Wood.
“We have a lot of kids coming back, and that’s going to help us, and we’re farther ahead than we were.”
Like the 2012 Buffs, the 2013 Pioneers lost their starting quarterback. Braxton Noble, the sophomore quarterback who beat the Buffs, separated his non-throwing shoulder against Tulsa Union in Week 5 and didn’t return.
While the Buffs recovered from the loss of Wood, finishing the season 8-5 and reaching the 5A state semifinals, the Pioneers never recovered from the loss of Noble, finishing the season 3-7 and missing the playoffs.
Now a junior, Noble returns as starting quarterback this year.
“He kind of raised the bar of expectation for our team last year,” Stillwater coach Tucker Barnard said of Noble.