By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — The McAlester Buffaloes will find themselves in familiar territory tonight. They’ll be playing a 5A state semifinal, as they have the previous two seasons.
But while the previous two teams might’ve been satisfied just to reach football’s final four, the 2013 Buffs want more.
“We’ve been here three years in a row,” Buffs coach Bryan Pratt said Tuesday. “It’s time to take it to the next level and go win a state championship.”
McAlester will face Lawton MacArthur in the semis at Choctaw High School. Pratt’s Buffaloes have twice before faced the Highlanders, losing at MacArthur in 2007 and 2010.
Several members of the 2013 senior class played on that 2010 McAlester team that lost in the quarter-finals.
“It kind of felt like we were a little outmanned in those and don’t quite feel that way this time,” Pratt said.
“We come out and we play with momentum like we played with last week, we’ll be fine,” Pratt said. “If we come out and feel like we’re really good because we beat the No. 2 team, the defending state champion, then that’s where you get into trouble.”
The Highlanders went 8-2 during the 2013 regular season, winning District 5A-1 with a 6-1 district record. Both of MacArthur’s victories in the postseason have been by five points or fewer.
“It’s not like we’re playing some team that’s 5-6,” Pratt said. “This is a really good football team that has been to the semis or the finals about four of the last five years.”
Junior quarterback Will Collins has been an offensive leader for the Highlanders, completing 70 percent of his passes for 1,900 yards and 25 touchdowns, according to stats available at NewsOK.com. He’s thrown just six interceptions in 193 attempts.
Gary McKnight Jr. has been one of Collins’ best receivers, with 34 catches for 665 yards and 11 receiving touchdowns.
“They have some really good athletes and some really skilled position-players, and they’re good up front,” Pratt said of MacArthur.
“Lawton’s going to run the football, but they’re also going to throw it. They’re no-huddle and they’re fast, so they like to run as many plays as possible.”
Through 12 games MacArthur has scored 448 points, which ranks the Highlanders fourth in 5A in scoring but third out of the four teams left in the playoffs. MacArthur has given up 280 points this season, ranking the Highlanders 12th in 5A.
MacArthur allowed 246 points during the regular season, roughly the same as Bishop Kelley. McAlester didn’t need four quarters from its starters to beat Bishop Kelley 38-10 on Oct. 25, suggesting the Buffs should at least have opportunities to move the ball against the Highlanders.
“Right now we have a lot of options,” Pratt said. “As long as we continue to play well and Dalton (Wood) continues to distribute the ball, we’ll probably continue to score points.
“Offensively, we don’t really go into a game thinking we’re going to give somebody the ball this many times. It’s kind of take what you give us and just make plays, and right now we’ve made several.”
With 631 points so far, McAlester has scored far and away the most points in 5A. McAlester’s 48-point win against East Central in the first round has been the most lopsided win in the playoffs so far, and its 39-point win against Carl Albert in the quarter-finals was the second-most.
With mental preparation so essential to that level of offensive execution, Pratt said his biggest challenge late in the season is to keep the Buffs focused and energized at practice.
“As a coach, you’re always concerned about your kids coming in flat,” Pratt said. “I don’t want to look back on this year and think I blew it because I didn’t keep us focused.”
Friday’s forecast calls for nighttime temperatures in the 40s, winds blowing south at 13 miles per hour and no chance of rain. Though Choctaw High School is approximately two hours northwest of McAlester, Pratt said he’s not concerned about supporters making the drive.
“We’ve traveled really, really well in the past,” Pratt said. “I know we played Guthrie up there and it was packed at Sapulpa (in the 2010 semifinal), and then we also played last year with a really good crowd in Muskogee.”
McAlester and MacArthur face off at 7:30 p.m. The winner will face either Guthrie or Collinsville in the state championship game next week at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.
To get to Choctaw, take the Indian Nation Turnpike north, then after 35 miles exit onto I-40 W towards Oklahoma City. After 74.4 miles, take exit 166 for Choctaw Road and turn left onto South Choctaw Road.
After 5.8 miles, turn left onto Northeast 10th Street. Bill Jensen Field is located at Choctaw High School, which is at 14300 NE 10th St.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.