McALESTER — The McAlester Buffaloes started their 2013 season in Stillwater, and they’ll end it in Stillwater.
The Buffs go for the gold ball in the 5A state championship Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium at Oklahoma State University at 7 p.m.
“It’s a very special time,” Buffs coach Bryan Pratt said Dec. 3.
“It just seems like a never-ending process, but I was sitting here thinking today, and I’m sure glad I’m doing it.”
To win a title, the Buffs will have to beat the Guthrie Bluejays. A 13-0 team that’s been ranked first in its class all season, Guthrie won District 5A-2, then won two of its three playoff games by at least 30 points.
Of McAlester’s three playoff opponents so far, the Bluejays’ offense most resembles the Carl Albert Titans — a slow, methodical, ground-based attack designed to simultaneously put up points and limit opposing possessions. Senior running back Kai Callins has been at the forefront of this offense, rushing for 1,500 yards and 27 touchdowns this season.
Callins earned MVP honors as a sophomore at the 2011 state championship — the same year Guthrie knocked off McAlester in the semifinals.
McAlester running back Jarome Smith has put up more yards on fewer carries than Callins, but the Bluejays have split their running plays between Callins and junior Idae Alexander this season.
Despite just one carry fewer than Callins, Alexander has rushed for 1,300 yards and 23 touchdowns of his own.
“They have a couple of really good running backs,” Pratt said.
“They’re 75 percent run.”
If the Buffs can stop the run, they’ll still have to worry about Guthrie’s passing game. Senior quarterback Reed Roberts has completed 70 percent of his passes this season, throwing for 1,330 yards, 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
Roberts also has three rushing touchdowns and even one receiving touchdown.
“You get so tied up on stopping the run, he’s able to hit you with some passes that really hurt you,” Pratt said of Roberts.
“We’ll go into this game, just like we did against Carl Albert, and say, ‘If you can throw the ball and beat us, you can do it.’”
Senior Donovan Jordan has been Roberts’ most-targeted receiver, catching 40 balls for 579 yards and four touchdowns. But if the Bluejays breach the Buffs’ red zone, look for junior L’liott Curry, who has caught nine touchdown passes despite just 19 receptions all season.
“They’re both really good players,” Pratt said of Guthrie’s receivers. Of Curry, he said, “He’s a big kid. He also plays outside linebacker for them.”
Guthrie also enters the championship with the lowest-scoring defense in 5A. The Bluejays have given up just 117 points all season — half as many as the Buffs — and no team has scored more than 21 points against the Bluejays all season.
McAlester’s receivers, most of whom double as the team’s starting defensive backs, will get tested throughout the game. Receivers Cade Harkins and Mason Bumphus have both compiled better stats than Jordan or Curry, combining for 22 of the team’s 32 receiving touchdowns.
The Buffs may also have Caden Pratt back. Caden’s been limited in practice since bruising his knee during the Nov. 29 semifinal against MacArthur, but with the state championship postponed a week due to last week’s snowstorm, Caden’s had an extra week to recover.
When healthy, Caden gives the Buffs an inside receiving threat to balance the outside threats of Bumphus and Harkins, and he also gives the team an extra weapon on punt- and kickoff-returns.
“We’re just day-to-day seeing how that goes and trying to get him as much treatment as we can,” Coach Pratt said.
“I can guarantee that he’s a pretty tough kid, and if he gets a chance to play, he will definitely try to play.”
The championship will pit the best defense in 5A against the best offense. McAlester leads the class in offense with 687 points, outscoring second-place Guthrie by 127 points.
“They’re going to load the box and stop the run and make us throw the football,” Coach Pratt said.
“I think their offense and our defense are a little bit better than people give them credit (for), so that’ll be a bigtime matchup as well. It could probably come down to special teams.”
Coach Pratt said that if the game does come down to special teams, 40 yards is about the maximum distance from which place-kicker Taeam Kang could try a field goal.
“When you play up at Oklahoma State, you’re going to play in college goalposts, so those goalposts are going to be a yard shorter on each side,” Coach Pratt said.
“I have a lot of confidence in Taeam, and I’m also not going to put him in a bad situation that he can’t succeed in.”
McAlester has already beaten three teams who’d beaten the Buffs in previous playoffs during Coach Pratt’s tenure.
If the Buffs can pull off one more “revenge game,” they’ll win their first state title since 1988.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.