McALESTER — When the McAlester Buffaloes faced the winless Nathan Hale Rangers in Week 6, the Buffs played a team that never looked like it actually thought it could win.
The Durant Lions have won just one game this season, but when the Buffs welcome them to Hook Eales Stadium tonight, they know the Lions will come in planning to knock off the 5-1 Buffs.
“Any time we play Durant, they’re kind of our rivals, now that we don’t play Ada,” Buffs coach Bryan Pratt said Tuesday.
“They never quit. They always continue to play hard, and I think that says a lot about Coach (Byron) Cordell and the program.”
The Lions are currently 1-5 overall, 0-3 in the district. Their one win and three of their losses have been by five points or fewer.
“This team has lost a lot of really close games,” Pratt said. “It’s going to be something where our players are going to have to come in and play well.”
Pratt said the Lions will likely attack the Buffs in the air, relying on senior quarterback Zac Cater. Cater started at quarterback last year, when the Buffs went into Durant and won, 41-14.
Cater has already completed 19 touchdown passes in just six games this season, throwing at least four in four different games. Receiver Brandon Maynard has been his biggest target, catching eight, followed by Skye Lowe with five and Layton Tubbs with four.
“They chunk it everywhere, and their quarterback probably has close to 2,000 yards passing this year,” Pratt said. “He threw for 400 last week, he threw for 400 against Skiatook, he threw for 400 against Ada, and they chunk it around anywhere. I wouldn’t be shocked to see them throw it 50, 60, times, because their running has not been something that they really try to hang their hat on.”
Though Durant has had no problem racking up offensive yards, they’ve been unable to stop any team but Ardmore, Durant’s Week 2 opponent. Its defense ranks sixth in district 5A-3 with 203 points allowed, and its offense also ranks sixth with 167 points scored.
“Our defense is going to have play well in the passing game, and we’ve done that so far with 15 picks this year through six games,” Pratt said. “We’re hoping that continues, and we’re definitely going to get some opportunities.”
McAlester’s offense, meanwhile, continues to dominate, its 284 total points leading 5A-3 and ranking second statewide in class 5A behind Guthrie. The Buffs, 3-0 in the district, will be without starting quarterback Dalton Wood again, but Pratt said they plan to add more complexity to the passing game backup quarterback Caden Pratt brought to Friday’s win against Hale.
“Defensively, they give us some options that maybe we didn’t have against Hale,” Coach Pratt said. “We have to be able to throw the football a little bit and try to get it down field a little bit more. Obviously we’re going to run it, everybody knows it, but we also have to be able to throw the football.”
Athletic trainer Mike Baker said Wood’s sprained right ankle has responded well to treatment, but Wood is still wearing a boot and hasn’t been able to resume football activities. Baker said the team would re-evaluate early next week to see if Wood can play in McAlester’s Oct. 25 game at Bishop Kelley.
Until then, the Buffs will continue with Caden Pratt at quarterback. Running back Jarome Smith is sure to get plenty of carries as well, and look for the Buffs to continue running Rhyln Stephens and starting nose guard Riley Smith in certain situations.
“It’s definitely four different cats, and four different guys that do it a little different, but they all can be successful,” Coach Pratt said. “They’ve all bought in, and they help each other out.”
Thursday’s game is part of “Pink Out Week,” a cancer-awareness fundraiser put on by McAlester’s cheer squad as part of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association’s “Win-Win” fundraiser. Cheer coach Ashlee Shumway ran her Little Buffs Cheer Clinic earlier this week, and those young cheerleaders will perform with McAlester’s varsity, JV and freshman squads at the game.
The Little Buffs will wear pink outfits, the Lady Buffs will wear pink bows, and the Buffs will wear pink athletic tape. Fans are encouraged to wear their “Pink Out” T-shirts.
The Buffs and Lions kick off tonight at 7 p.m.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.