By Matt Goisman
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.
“I hope that are passing game is really good. It has a chance to be. We have some really talented receivers and a quarterback that, through most of five games last year, threw for about 1,000 yards.”
Barnard said the Pioneers will bring a spread offense designed to take advantage of its deep receiving corps. That starts with junior Brandon Prather and senior Spencer Parsons.
“Both of them have really good ball skills,” Barnard said of his two receivers. “Brandon is a speed guy, a lot of jumping ability. Spencer is more of a route-runner, possession-type guy.”
Jordan Brown is another receiver the Buffs will need to watch. Pratt and Barnard have already traded film, and Pratt said he’s well aware of Stillwater’s potentially dangerous passing game.
“They’re really good,” Pratt said. “They have a receiver that will probably be one of the best receivers we see all year.”
“Their defense flies to the ball.”
That defense includes safety King Williams, who led the 2012 Pioneers in interceptions and tackles, and linebacker Cameron Mayberry. Barnard said his team will work out of a 3-4 front, but he plans to give opponents multiple defensive looks out of that alignment.
“You have to be pretty multiple, I think, when you get into a 6A district, and the same thing in 5A,” Barnard said.
“We’ll play some four (man) front, five front, but everything starts for us in 3-4 this year.”
As for Barnard’s film analysis, he said he expects a “really fast” game from McAlester, especially its offense.
“Their read-game and their run game is going to be difficult, and they run so many possession-type concept routes that it’s going to pose a problem,” Barnard said.
“The team that Coach Pratt, they’re always one of the best teams in 5A.”
Pratt said that while nothing about the preseason has surprised him, he’s been especially pleased with the development of his less-experienced inside linebackers.
“We’re rolling into this as healthy as we can be, and that’s a plus,” Pratt said.
To get to Stillwater High School, taking the Carl Albert Parkway to the Indian Nation Turnpike, then exit onto I-40 W towards Oklahoma City. Take exit 181 for US-177, then turn right onto US-177 N.
After 42.3 miles, turn left onto E. 116th Street, then turn right onto US-177 N, also known as S. Perkins Road. Turn left onto E. 6th Avenue, right onto S. Main Street, then right onto N. Husband Street.
Pioneer Stadium is on the northwest end of the SHS campus, which is located at 1224 N. husband Street. Friday’s game kicks off at 7 p.m.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.