McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

August 31, 2013

Buffs survive frustrating Norman scrimmage

By Matt Goisman
Sports Writer

NORMAN — “It was dumb.” “The format sucks.” “We’re not coming back.”

The McAlester Buffaloes participated in the Top of the World Scrimmage at Norman High School on Friday. But with a stop-and-go format weighted heavily towards “stop,” the experience left Buffs players and coaches frustrated and ready for an actual game.

“This is TU team camp,” coach Bryan Pratt said, referring to a summer football camp at Tulsa University. “I play a game, then I sit for 20 minutes, I play a game. It’s stupid. You can’t get any kind of rhythm.”

Half of the scrimmage was devoted to the “Drive-to-Score” team series, which gave each team one offensive drive and one defensive drive. The Buffs played five of these, but as the scrimmage’s length went past three hours, Coach Pratt chose to skip the sixth series against Shawnee, sending his players to the locker room to change and head home early.

“It’s not the way it’s supposed to be,” Coach Pratt said. “It’s 10 p.m., and we haven’t even left yet. It’s not what I signed up for.”

In the “Quick Fire” rotations, teams played three downs in a row on defense but switched out every down on offense. With defenses getting far more reps than offenses, Pratt said he made sure not to show to much of the Buffs’ playbook to future opponents.

“We didn’t show any of our packages, and we don’t want to show any of them,” Coach Pratt said.

Because of the scrimmage’s format, the Buffs had to settle for moments of success or moments of failure. McAlester looked good more often than it looked bad, scoring a touchdown but giving up none in its four “Quick Fire” rotations, but even the successes couldn’t really satisfy.

“Us being more in shape, using that against other teams with our fast offense and no-huddle, is how we roll most of the time,” Wood said. “But sitting around here is just a waste of our two-and-a-half-hour drive.”

Wood completed 15 of 31 passes for 163 yards, three touchdowns and an interception across the multiple series the Buffs played. Ray-Ray Stephens, normally a defensive back, also carried the ball 10 times on offense, rushing for 62 total yards.

“It was a big step up for me,” Stephens said. “I just had to step up and make the big plays because Jarome (Smith) was hurt.”

Neither Jarome Smith nor Cade Harkins played Friday due to minor injuries. Coach Pratt said both could’ve played, but with a major goal being to avoid injuries a week before the first game of the year, he chose to sit out both players.

The closest the Buffs got to anything resembling an actual game happened at the start of the varsity portion of the scrimmage, when they faced district opponent Sapulpa in a 12-minute “Drive-to-Score” series. Caden Pratt and Dalton Wood each rushed for touchdowns in that series, but Sapulpa scored its second touchdown on a 35-yard pass to Abel Murrieta in the final seconds to effectively tie the “game.”

Once that series ended, however, the Buffs alternated between long periods of time on the sideline and occasional, brief appearances on the field for a few offensive or defensive plays. That meant whenever the Buffs got on the field, they came on with cold, tightened muscles, and several appeared to cramp up once they got off the field again.

“It was a waste of our time,” Wood said.

Referees at times seemed to have as much difficulty with the scrimmage’s format as the players. When Wood completed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Blakely Williams in a series against Choctaw, a holding penalty about 10 yards outside of the end zone canceled the score and put the ball at the 5-yard-line.

That drive ended in a 23-yard field goal by Taeam Kang. But when Deer Creek committed a holding penalty at the 40 on what turned into a 40-yard touchdown reception against McAlester, the refs simply counted the score and allowed Deer Creek to kick a point-after.

After the scrimmage ended, Coach Pratt confirmed the Buffs will not participate in future Top of the World Scrimmages. Instead, Pratt said the Buffs will try to host a “Southeastern Oklahoma Showcase” at Hook Eales Stadium.

Contact Matt Goisman at mgoisman@mcalesternews.com.