By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — Having already clinched their district and two home playoff games, the McAlester Buffaloes can’t improve their standing when they head to Tulsa to face the Memorial Chargers on Friday.
The Chargers, however, will take the field knowing a win means a trip to the playoffs.
“Any time you play your last game and it means something, that’s a good thing,” Memorial coach Ryan Reed said Friday.
The Chargers are 6-3 overall, 4-2 in the district. Reed said the team lost its starting quarterback in Week 2 against Tulsa Edison, forcing senior Keith Driver to take over the position.
“We kind of had to change our identity a little bit offensively, and they rolled with it,” Reed said.
“We didn’t change our scheme. We just became a little more run-based, option-based, offensively.”
That run-based offense has benefited greatly from senior running back Mikequan Deane. Reed said Deane, one of the leading rushers in 5A, has been by recruited by several Division I colleges, including Michigan State and New Mexico State.
“He’s a big kid, he plays basketball, he’s probably 6-3, 270 pounds,” Reed said of Deane.
“If he gets loose, he’s loose.”
Keyuante Austin has been another strong running back for the Chargers. Reed credited both runners’ success to Memorial’s offensive line, which center Cody Baker has pulled together into a formidable unit.
“Mikequan has had a 437-yard rushing game, and Keyuante’s had a couple 300-yard rushing games, and they’re able to have those because of our guys up front,” Reed said.
Reed worked previously as Memorial’s offensive line coach and then offensive coordinator before taking over as head coach this year. He said his offense, even when it’s run-based, operates out of a spread, because “that’s what I cut my teeth on 10 years ago.”
Like the Chargers, the Buffs lost their starting quarterback earlier in the season. Dalton Wood suffered an ankle injury early in McAlester’s Week 5 game against Shawnee, and he’ll return to the field Friday after a four-game absence.
“We knew he wasn’t going to come back and be in the same shape that he was before,” Buffs coach Bryan Pratt said of Wood.
“The ankle’s completely healed. ... He’s not limping any.”
Pratt said that although Wood won’t play defense or punt, he will play on offense until the game is so far out of reach that the Buffs can sub in their JV players. Pratt added that Friday’s game will be a good opportunity to get Wood lots of reps against a playoff-caliber team a week before the actual playoffs start.
With Wood back under center, Caden Pratt returns to inside receiver. Caden will also be able to play more defensive downs at safety, allowing the Buffs to give Allen Woodmore and Rhyln Stephens a little more rest.
“He looks really good at inside receiver,” Coach Pratt said of Caden. “It’s way more natural.”
Wood and his receivers will have to work against Memorial’s “3-3-stack” defense, which relies on nose guard Zak Johnson to plug up holes in the middle.
“What it allows us to do is play with one truly lineman-type guy at nose guard and pack the rest of the positions with as much as speed as we can,” Reed said.
Those speedier defenders include middle linebacker Maleek Greenley, whom Reed called “the quarterback of our defense.” The Chargers also have two talented cornerbacks in senior Jalen Smith — another D-I recruit — and sophomore Daquari Royal, who Reed said is tied for most interceptions in school history.
“He’s a good cover corner and a good run-support corner,” Reed said of Smith. Of Royal, Reed said, “I think the best thing that ever happened to him was having Jalen on the other side.”
The Buffs have a shutdown corner themselves in senior Mason Bumphus, who currently leads the state in interceptions. That might spell trouble for Driver, who Reed said has turned into a decent passer in the last few weeks but has still thrown several interceptions.
“They’re the most complete team we’ve seen,” Reed said of the Buffs.
“What we have to do mainly has nothing to do with McAlester. We turn the ball over, and sometimes give up assignments on defense, and to beat teams like McAlester, we can’t do that.”
To get to Tulsa Memorial, take the Indian Nation Turnpike to US-75 N, then exit onto I-44 E and take exit 228 for East 51st Street. Turn left onto East 51st Street, then turn right onto South Hudson Avenue after 1.2 miles.
La Fortune stadium is on the Memorial campus, at 5840 S. Hudson Ave.
McAlester’s final game of the regular season kicks off at 7 p.m.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.