By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — After their big Homecoming win against Shawnee on Friday, the McAlester Buffaloes could easily look past the Nathan Hale Rangers to bigger opponents such as Durant or Bishop Kelley. The Rangers, after all, are 0-5, just once losing by fewer than 30 points.
The Rangers don’t seem nearly as daunting as the Wolves. But that’s exactly the mentality Buffs coach Bryan Pratt wants to avoid when the Buffs head to Tulsa on Friday.
“You can’t walk out there and just kind of go through the motions,” Pratt said Wednesday.
“This isn’t who we’re trying to be. We’re trying to be state champions, and in order to do that, you’re going to have to go out and play no matter who you’re playing.”
The Buffs will face a Rangers team hampered by a number of issues. Injuries, ineligibility, inexperience — all of these factors have combined to keep Hale from establishing a consistent offense or developing solid defense.
“Inexperience is probably the No. 1 thing,” Hale coach Tony Peters said. “Right now, we’re a very poor tackling team.
“We have to be smart and be able to realize where the gaps are on the back end, on the passing end. But we’re having trouble on the front-side, the tackling.”
With so much inexperience up front, Peters said, the Rangers have tended to put as many as eight men in the box on defense, trying to block up all gaps and stop the running game. That strategy has paid off for brief periods of time, but opponents are still averaging more than 50 points per game against the Rangers.
Peters said he’s hoping to get more production from defensive tackle Raul Pando. A senior, Pando will also play center Friday.
“He’s 6-2, 265 pounds,” Peters said. “Has a lot of talent, but again he hasn’t played since his freshman year of high school.”
The Rangers’ offense, meanwhile, starts with senior Jonathan Beasley.
“He’s their money man,” Pratt said of Beasley. “He’s a guy that they get the ball to all the time. He’s their running back, he’s played a little quarterback, he’s played some inside receiver, but he can actually play.”
Senior Kejuan Clark is another Ranger to watch for Friday. A wide receiver and defensive back, Clark has already recorded six receiving touchdowns, according to Peters.
“His best attribute is his jumping ability,” Peters said of Clark. “He intercepted one against (Bishop) Kelley and returned it 50 yards.”
Though the Rangers have two talented receivers, quarterback Sam Palmer has struggled with accuracy. Peters said Palmer, a senior but first-year varsity QB, is currently completing just 30 percent of his passes.
“You have to believe you can win,” Peters said. “We’d have to play a perfect game, and we haven’t played a perfect game.”
Without a solid passing game, the Rangers have tried option runs, allowing one running back to carry the ball and lateral to another right before getting tackled. Pratt said he wants his defense to remain gap-sound and focused.
“They might be spread one time, and then they might be in the flex-bone (formation) the next,” Pratt said. “It’s just something that our kids are going to have use their rules, be able to adjust to formations, line up and play football.”
The Buffs have spent the past week practicing with Caden Pratt as quarterback. Though Coach Pratt said Caden should throw more Friday than he did against Shawnee, he’s a different type of quarterback than injured starter Dalton Wood, requiring some adjustment back to the offense the Buffs used with Caden last year.
“It kind of takes it back to ‘old school,’” Coach Pratt said. “Our kids adjust to it fine, and we’ll be fine. It gives Dalton a good chance to rest and get healed up and get ready for the run.”
If all goes as planned, the Buffs should be able to put this game away by halftime, as they did against Noble two weeks ago. Coach Pratt said that could mean extended playing time for second-string and junior varsity players, which will definitely help the team in future games and seasons.
Nathan Hale plays its football games at the East Side Sports Complex, which is part of the Tulsa East Central campus. Take the Indian Nation Turnpike to US Highway 75 North, then exit onto I-44 East after 80 miles. Take exit 235 toward East 11th Street, merge onto East Skelly Drive, then turn right on East 11th Street. The Complex is at 12150 E. 11th St.
Nathan Hale will hold its Homecoming festivities at 6:30 p.m., followed by kickoff at 7.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.