A district champion gets to host two playoff games. A third- or fourth-place team will be on the road for the entire playoffs.
One of the biggest remaining district puzzle pieces will fall into place when the McAlester Buffaloes host the Shawnee Wolves tonight at 7 p.m. at First National Field in McAlester. The Oklahoman ranked the game ninth statewide earlier this week.
“There’s a lot of hype going into this game, and there has been for a long time,” Buffs coach Bryan Pratt said of Shawnee.
“They’re going to come in with an attitude. Their kids don’t like our kids. Our kids don’t like their kids.”
The Wolves come to town 6-2 overall and 5-1 in District 5A-3. They’ve consistently been ranked in the top 10 in various Class 5A polls throughout the season and were the preseason No. 1 team.
“I think this is the team they’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” Pratt said.
Senior John Jacobs is in his third year as Shawnee’s starting quarterback. He’s among the top 15 quarterbacks in the state, completing 60.9 percent of his passes for 112 receptions, 1,5557 yards, 14 touchdowns and five interceptions in eight games.
Jacobs also has 523 rushing yards and nine touchdown runs according to statistics kept by The Oklahoman. He verbally committed to East Carolina University, a Division I school in North Carolina, earlier this season.
“He’s the guy that makes it all work,” Pratt said of Jacobs. “He can run it, he can throw it. He’s a really, really, really explosive, big player.”
But despite Jacobs’ talent, Pratt said, “he hasn’t beaten us yet.” McAlester won at Shawnee in 2012, then overcame an early injury to quarterback Dalton Wood in 2013 to win again.
The Buffs forced four turnovers against the Wolves last year, including intercepting Jacobs twice in the end zone. Turnovers and penalties cost the Buffs against Skiatook in Week 6 this season, but the Buffs have minimized both of those in their back-to-back blowout wins since.
“We got some heads straight that next weekend (after Skiatook), and we got some things going in the right direction,” Pratt said.
“They’re really taking that as positive criticism.”
Cole Humphrey has been Jacobs’ main receiver this season, putting up 46 receptions for 697 yards and six touchdowns. Humphrey caught two touchdowns and had a 100-yard receiving night in Week 8, helping Shawnee beat Tulsa-Memorial 42-7.
“He’ll catch the deep ball, he’ll catch the short ball,” Pratt said of Humphrey. “He is the guy that (Jacobs is) looking for every time.”
Running back Shade Franklin is Shawnee’s leading rusher, averaging more that 100 yards per game and scoring six rushing touchdowns. Franklin’s success has come in part from senior tackle Tristan Wyatt, a nearly 300-pound offensive lineman who has verbally committed to the University of Tulsa, another Division I school.
Shawnee coach Billy Brown couldn’t be reached for comment.
Pratt said the Wolves tend to use a four-man front on defense. How many safeties they bring into the box may dictate whether the Buffs run or throw.
“When they do a two-high look, they pull a guy out of the box, so you feel like you can attack them,” Pratt said. “But if they go a one-high look, then they’re kind of loading the box, kind of taking some things away from us.
“We’re going to have to be able to throw the football, but they’re huge up front.”
McAlester will have Rhyln Stephens back after sitting out last week’s game with an ankle injury, and senior offensive lineman Cody Cozad will also be available for the first time this season. It’s fitting, perhaps, that Friday night will be Senior Night at Hook Eales Stadium.
The Buffs are on a two-game winning streak, but McAlester’s recent competition was nowhere near Shawnee’s caliber. The Buffs’ last two games were both over by halftime, but immediately following last week’s 63-0 win at Tulsa-Hale the Buffs were already saying it’d take four full quarters to beat the Wolves.
Shawnee also enters the game knowing that if the Wolves win out, they clinch the district. McAlester needs to win its final two games and have Skiatook lose to finish first.
“The first quarter is going to be a big deal, how we play in the first quarter, how we adjust to the speed of it,” Pratt said. “Because no matter what you do in practice, it’s never going to be the way that it is in the game. It’s going to be way faster, way more physical.”
McAlester is 1-1 in games against top-10 teams this year. They beat Prior easily in Week 3 but lost by 1 point to Skiatook in Week 6.
The Buffs will get a better sense of where the team stacks up among the elite Class 5A teams tonight.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.