By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — Though the McAlester Buffaloes will in all likelihood get at least one playoff game at Hook Eales Stadium, they’ll play their last home game of the regular season tonight against the Skiatook Bulldogs.
“We’re looking to be great tacklers and try to play the plays and the formations that they give us, and try to do like we did last week and try to shut down a pretty potent offense,” Buffs coach Bryan Pratt said Wednesday.
“Last year we went up to Skiatook after we got beat by Bishop Kelley, and we were a little flat and didn’t play very well. I anticipate, being it’s Senior Night, it’s probably going to be kind of emotional for some of these guys. They’re going to really want to make a showing of our last game.”
Much like the Buffs, the Bulldogs are a run-based offense that operates out of the spread and throws just often enough to keep defenses from keying on their running backs, according to Skiatook coach Vance Miller. Junior running back Kyle McLaughlin has been the Bulldogs’ biggest offensive playmaker, having already rushed for approximately 1,500 yards.
“He’s a hard runner,” Miller said of McLaughlin. “He has good vision and he just gets it done.”
Miller said McLaughlin has been equally adept at running up the middle and getting around the edge. McLaughlin has benefited from a strong offensive line making holes for him, with sophomore center Cody Evans leading the way.
“He does a lot for us as far as making calls and anchoring that thing down,” Miller said of Evans.
“Offensive line is doing a great job up front as far as blocking.”
Though McLaughlin has been a force for the Bulldogs, sophomore quarterback Stephen Upton has still had to manage games. Miller said Upton is Skiatook’s third quarterback this season.
“He’s an athlete and he just does a good job being a leader,” Miller said of Upton. Miller added that junior Gavin Pilgrim has been Upton’s go-to receiver, able to both stretch the field on deep passes and complete short-yardage routes.
On defense, junior Baylor Jenkins has starred as a linebacker. Miller said Jenkins played safety last year but moved up this season.
“He just has a nose for the football, so he’ll make a lot of tackles and be where he needs to be,” Miller said of Jenkins.
Like the Buffs, the Bulldogs use a 3-4 defense. Both defenses will get tested early and often today.
“You have to try to slow down their offense,” Miller said. “Their offense is very, very good, and when we’re on offense, we just have to try to move the chains, get first downs and keep the ball from them.”
The Bulldogs are 3-5 overall, 3-2 in the district. Bishop Kelley, which plays Memorial today, is also 3-2 in District 5A-3, and it’s likely Skiatook or Kelley will make the playoffs, but not both.
“The kids are playing really hard,” Miller said.
“We just try to perfect it each week.”
The Buffs, meanwhile, are 7-1 overall, 5-0 in the district. A win today and a Tulsa Memorial loss would mean a district championship.
“The last two weeks before the Bishop Kelley game, both those weeks were really good, and it just carried over,” Pratt said. “This week is another good week of practice, and if we have a good Thursday script tomorrow, I foresee the same thing.
“That’s what makes it, to me, a special group, is they know how to have fun while they’re still working hard. It isn’t a deal where they clown around. We’re able to get something done and still enjoy being there while we’re at practice.”
McAlester’s senior class has been a big reason for the Buffs’ success both at practice and on Friday nights. All of McAlester’s starting seniors, including Caden Pratt, Mason Bumphus, Cade Harkins, Blakely Williams, Mikey Verner and Allen Woodmore, seem to have taken their games to another level this year, showing both more ability and more consistency than they did a year ago.
“It’s guys that have been there, done that, and they have a mission right now,” Coach Pratt said.
“The game is a whole lot slower to them than it is to everybody else because they’ve played so many reps.”
Added Coach Pratt, “It’s all working out for us, and we hope we can finish it off and it goes special, but it’s been a lot of fun.”
McAlester plays Skiatook at 7 p.m. at Hook Eales Stadium.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.