By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — Winning a district means hosting the first two rounds of the playoffs. And even before the season started, Buffs coach Bryan Pratt listed winning the district among the team’s goals.
The Buffs’ path to a district title starts tonight, when the Buffs head to Noble to take on the Bears.
“These are the ones that really matter,” Pratt said Wednesday.
“With some of the teams that we have to play, you can’t afford to give one up that you should win. And this is a game that we definitely should go out and take care of business and win.”
The Buffs face a 2-1 Bears team coming off a 35-34 loss to El Reno in Week 3. The Bears came within a missed extra point in overtime last week of starting the season 3-0.
“They’ve got some good, hard-nosed kids that just take care of business, and that’s what they’re going to come in and try to do,” Pratt said. “I would assume they’re going to try to shorten the game as much as possible. They can’t run with us.”
Of the Bears’ two wins, one came against Tecumseh, a 4A team, and the other came against Western Heights, a 5A team that lost its first three games by an average of 40 points.
“Our running game is probably one of our better assets, but we have more skill-position kids than we’ve had traditionally,” Bears coach Steve Barrett said.
“We’ve been able to move the ball. We’ve been pretty successful on offense.”
Senior Dakota Boxwell starts at running back for the Bears, having been a quarterback for the Bears his first three seasons. Boxwell lost the QB position this year to senior Cory Jennings.
“He’s completing 80 percent of his passes right now, so he’s done well passing, but he’s a very good runner, as far as a traditional space player (goes),” Barrett said of Jennings. Barrett compared Jennings to Buffs receiver Caden Pratt: “Good moves and extremely fast.”
The Bears also feature two key receivers in sophomore Trevor Lester and senior Austin Echols. Barrett said his team has tried to use plays such as jet sweeps and screen passes — high-percentage plays designed to get the skill-position players into open space.
“He’ll catch balls out of the backfield, he’ll run the zone, he’ll run deep routes,” Barrett said of Echols. “He can do a little bit of everything.”
Defensively, the Bears work out of a 4-2-5 defense, relying on their four defensive linemen to tie up the offensive line and allow linebackers to make the plays. Alec Venegas and Nik Wahl, two seniors, lead the Bears’ linebacking corps.
“This is a good senior class,” Barrett said. “There’s probably 16 of them, and 10 of them see a good amount of time on the field.”
McAlester’s offense has been outstanding through the first three weeks of the season, but high-scoring offenses can sometimes mask weaker defenses or special teams. And the Buffs head into this game aiming to allow far fewer than the 38.7 points they’ve averaged through the first three weeks.
“We know that defense wins championships,” Coach Pratt said.
“You’re not going to be able average 50 points a game. You’re not going to be able to go through the season (doing that). There are going to be times when you’re going to have score 14 and win, and you’re going to have to play defense.”
But however the defense plays, the Buffs still have that 50-point offense in their back pocket. Barrett called McAlester “outstanding at many positions.”
“It’s a huge challenge for us,” Barrett said.
“We’re going to have to play mistake-free football to even have a chance to be with McAlester”
To get to Noble Stadium, take the Indian Nation Turnpike north and exit onto I-40 W after 35 miles. Drive 62 miles, then take exit 178 and turn left onto OK-102 S.
After eight miles, turn right onto OK-9 W and follow it for 20 miles before turning left onto 48th Avenue SE. Finish by turning right onto E. Etowah Road.
Noble High School is located at 4601 E. Etowah Rd. The stadium is on the NHS campus, and the game kicks off at 7:30 p.m.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.