By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — Whatever positives and negatives came out of McAlester’s first two football games of the season — and there were plenty of both — the Buffaloes know they won’t see Stillwater or Booker T. Washington again in 2013.
The Claremore Zebras, on the other hand, are a Class 5A team the Buffs could see in the playoffs. And the 2-0 Zebras come to Hook Eales Stadium tonight at 7 p.m.
“I don’t think our kids have any love lost for Claremore, especially after last year,” Buffs coach Bryan Pratt said Thursday. “We feel like we owe them a little something.”
Claremore beat McAlester 21-20 in overtime last year, tying the game in the final minute of regulation and winning the game with a fourth-down touchdown pass in overtime. Video later showed Claremore’s receiver dropped that fourth-down pass, and the loss could arguably be called lowest point of the 2012 season.
“We’ve king of been preaching this week that they’re going to want revenge,” Claremore coach Rob Gilbreath said.
“We think that they will be kind of looking at the past.”
Claremore comes to town with a balanced offensive philosophy, having beaten 4A school Miami 42-19 in Week 2. The Zebras will try to accomplish this through a division of labor between quarterback Brinley Brown and running back Derek Reliford.
“Our quarterback runs when he has to, but he’s more of a passing threat in our offensive scheme,” Gilbreath said.
“Derek has great hips and feet. He’s not very tall, but he’s put together well. .... He possesses some things that you can’t coach.”
Because Reliford isn’t very tall, Gilbreath compared him to Buffs running back Jarome Smith. The Zebras alternate between spread and power-I formations, with Bear Hope, Dalton Horsman and Gage Meisinger taking turns at fullback and blocking for Reliford.
“Those other three start on defense, so we try to rotate them, keep them fresh,” Gilbreath said.
When Brown passes, he has four veteran receivers in Caleb Webster, Hunter Garroutte, Dustin Baskas and Nathan Lollis. All four saw playing time last season, when the Zebras went 10-2, losing in the second round of the playoffs.
“They have some really good receivers,” Pratt said.
“They lost their quarterback (from last year) ... but the other quarterback throws the ball deep really well.”
Having lost in part due to pass-defense last week, Pratt said his team has focused on it in practice this week.
“It was just one of those nights that we need to grow from,” Pratt said of the 47-45 loss to Booker T..
“I think they’ve beat themselves up enough.”
While the Buffs’ pass-defense looked suspect last week, top receivers Caden Pratt and Cade Harkins both posted 100-yard receiving nights. Harkins and Caden Pratt have already combined for five touchdown passes and about 400 receiving yards.
Though happy with those two receivers, Coach Pratt said, “We’ve gotten too many drops balls from all of our receivers.”
McAlester’s passing game will work against Claremore’s 4-4 defensive front. Hope and Meisinger double as inside linebackers for the Zebras, while Horsman plays defensive end.
Gilbreath said he expects more passing from the Buffs this year. And though 4-4 defenses typically focus on stopping the run, Gilbreath said his team’s goal is to contain McAlester’s short-yardage passing game.
“Just because we’re in a four-four doesn’t mean we’re blitzing every down,” Gilbreath said.
“We probably won’t do a lot of blitzing because of their screen game.”
McAlester’s screen game looked solid during the first half, but not during the second half. McAlester quarterback Dalton Wood also threw two interceptions on short-yardage passes over the defensive line, and he’s thrown at least one interception every week dating back to McAlester’s home scrimmage on Aug. 23.
Coach Pratt said Wood just needs more reps at quarterback, as he’s still learning how to read defensive lines.
Wood and the rest of the Buffs will get plenty more reps tonight.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.