By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — McAlester’s defense played well at Noble on Sept. 27, but Noble wasn’t a team likely to contend for a playoff spot. To win their district, the Buffaloes will need to replicate that performance against much tougher opponents.
In a game ranked among the best in the state, the Buffs welcome the Shawnee Wolves to Hook Eales Stadium for Homecoming on Friday.
“There are no flaws on them, offensively,” Buffs coach Bryan Pratt said of Shawnee on Tuesday. “Defense has been something we’ve struggled at before. We’re definitely going to have to come out and play well like we did last week and try to tackle the ball, improve in the things we’ve done in the past, and still hopefully get some turnovers.
“It’ll definitely show people that we’re either state championship material or we still have some room to work on.”
The Wolves come to town on a two-game winning streak, having beaten Tulsa Memorial in Week 4, 63-33. Friday’s game will match up two very potent offenses, as the Buffs have averaged 50 points a game through the first four weeks.
“They do what they do really well, and they’re very difficult to scheme for,” Wolves coach Billy Brown said.
“Who gets the most stops will probably win.”
Shawnee will try to get stops with a 4-4 defense designed to stop the run. Brown said inside linebacker Gage Humphrey has taken charge of Shawnee’s defense, having been a starter for three years, including in 2011 when Shawnee was a 6A school.
Though Shawnee typically plays just three defensive backs, free safety Don Murphy has helped create a solid Wolves secondary.
“It’s a ‘bend but don’t break’ kind of deal,” Brown said of his defense. “We’re not going to slash anybody and hold them to no yards, that’s not the kind of kids we have.
“Play hard, don’t give up the big play, make the offense work for it.”
Junior quarterback John Jacobs leads the Wolves on offense. The starting quarterback last year, Jacobs had to watch the Buffs come to Shawnee and win 35-27 in Week 5.
A year later, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Jacobs will want some revenge.
“He’s just playing better as far as reading,” Brown said of Jacobs. “We’re able to do more offensively with him.
“Every game he gets better and better because he gets more experience.”
Brown said Shawnee works out of a spread offense, taking advantage of wide receivers such as Chris Lester, Cole Humphrey and Kendall Gilbert. Humphrey and Gilbert are both seniors drawing interest from college teams, Brown said, and Gilbert is even getting looks from Division I schools such as the University of Indiana and the University of New Mexico.
“He’s at least 6-3, 210 pounds, and can run,” Brown said of Gilbert. “He started as a sophomore when were 6A and caught nine touchdowns”
Gilbert tweaked his hamstring and missed the first three games of the season, Brown said, but he returned last week against Memorial.
Shawnee also features a powerful offensive line led by senior guard Riley Greenlee. That offensive line has made life easier for running back Dillon Dutton, who rushed for 153 yards and two touchdowns against Memorial.
“They’re big kids, they can move and they work as a group,” Brown said.
“We’ve been able to do some things with the run game that we haven’t been able to do in the past.”
McAlester trailed Shawnee with eight minutes left in last year’s game, but the Buffs scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to win. Shawnee lost three district games last year, Brown said, with all three coming from fourth-quarter letdowns.
“Hopefully we finish games instead of giving them away in the fourth quarter,” Brown said.
Both the Buffs and Wolves hold top-five rankings in 5A this year. McAlester has the best offense in District 5A-3 with 202 total points — the Buffs rank second in the class behind Guthrie’s 207— while Shawnee has the best defense with 81 points allowed.
Though both teams could wind up in the playoffs, whoever wins this game will gain a key tie-breaker in the race for the district.
“A lot of people are calling this the district championship, so it’ll be something where we’re going to have to come out and play well and understand how important this game is,” Pratt said.
“Right now we’re playing pretty well, and it should be a war.”
McAlester kicks off at home against Shawnee at 7 p.m. The game will have a “blackout” theme, and Buffs fans are encouraged to wear all black clothing.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.