Since squaring off back in Week 1, Stratford and Coalgate have seen their seasons take vastly different paths. But on Friday night, the Bulldogs and Wildcats — former rivals in District A-8 — will have several things in common once again.
In addition to being the final two standardbearers in area high school football this fall, the old rivals face second-round playoff match-ups on the road against teams that are (a) unbeaten and (b) have the highest-scoring offenses in their respective classes.
Coalgate, which lost its first three games but bounced back to win seven of eight and finish second in District 2A-4, will travel to Oklahoma City to face a top-ranked Millwood squad that has averaged 50 points through 11 games.
Stratford, meanwhile, opened the season with three straight victories before losing to Elmore City-Pernell and Wayne and winding up third in District A-5. The Bulldogs (9-2) will take a long road trip north to meet fifth-ranked Afton, which has scored 497 points so far this season.
Coalgate (7-4) at Millwood (11-0)
Coalgate’s defense cooled off the second highest-scoring offense in 2A last week, pitching a second-half shutout in a 22-21 victory over Frederick at home. First-year coach Wade Boyles said his club’s recent hot streak and last week’s impressive defensive effort (versus a team that had scored 90 points in its regular-season finale) should give the Wildcats confidence Friday against a Millwood club that has scored fewer than 42 points just once this season.
“I think those first three games were kind of a shocker and a learning experience at the same time,” Boyles said. “Our kids took them in stride and kept working to get better week in and week out. With our district set up the way it was, we made a pretty good run.
“We’re pretty excited about this week,” he said. “Nobody expects us to go in there and beat Millwood, but sometimes people look at records and don’t look at a team. Some people never get to play the best, so why not see what you’ve got.”
What Coalgate has — in addition to a defense that has surrendered more than 14 points just twice over the past eight weeks — is a three-headed monster on offense in seniors Nolan Fanning, Dale Powell and Shay Loudermilk.
Fanning, who has taken most of the snaps at quarterback, has thrown for over 1,000 yards; Powell — who has also played quarterback in each of his four varsity seasons — has run for over 1,100 yards; and Loudermilk (also one of Oklahoma’s leaders in tackles from his linebacker spot) has rushed for over 1,200 yards.
“We’ve been able to do some things on offense we haven’t been able to do in the past,” Boyles explained. “We’ve got a bunch of kids who just work hard day in and day out, and they’re playing well right now.
“The biggest thing we’ve got to do this week is be patient and not make mistakes,” he said. “Against a good team, mistakes can come back and hurt you, and Millwood is the kind of team that can capitalize on your mistakes. We just have to control the things we can control and play our brand of football.”
While Coalgate has taken a blue-collar approach to the season, Millwood has a roster sprinkled with Division I prospects on both sides of the ball.
“They’ve got some kids that can absolutely play football,” Boyles said of the Falcons, who crushed OCS (which entered the game with a 4-6 record), 59-28, last week. “They’re very athletic, and they’re 11-0 for a reason. They’re a very good football team, but I think we’re going to go up there and give them a game.”
Millwood’s two most high-profile players are cornerbacks Brandan Swindell (who has returned eight of his 15 interceptions this season for touchdowns) and Josh Turner.
“Those guys are athletes,” Boyles said. “We’re not going to try to throw it at them a whole lot. We’re going to try to run the ball at (the Falcons). Nobody has run the ball at Millwood this year, but that’s who we are, so we’re going to give it a shot and see how it goes.
“These kids aren’t afraid to pick a fight and go toe-to-toe — they’re very physical,” he said. “The big key is to stick with the things that have worked for us all year.”
Stratford (9-2) at Afton (11-0)
The Bulldogs’ 41-0 road blowout of another former A-8 school, Quinton, last week was part of a dominant performance by A-5. Each of the district’s four playoff teams — Elmore City, Wayne, Stratford and Wynnewood — scored an impressive first-round victory, and all but Wynnewood (which beat No. 8 Gore and, as a result, will get a home game this week) shut out their opponents.
“We want to build off last week’s game,” Stratford coach Michael Blackburn said. “We came out and played with some intensity maybe we haven’t always had. We need to play with intensity this week, and we need to be physical on both sides of the ball.
“Afton is good, but I definitely think we have a shot if we go play,” he noted. “If we can come out offensively and be physical and run the ball, that should open up some other things.”
While A-5 proved just how tough it was this fall with last week’s playoff sweep, the same couldn’t be said for A-3. Afton won the district in a walk, but the Eagles (who shut out 2-9 Barnsdall, 55-0, last week) have played just one team all season with a winning record, and that club — league runner-up Foyil — struggled to get past 4-6 Hominy last week.
“If I had to compare (Afton) to somebody, it would probably be Wayne (which beat Stratford, 26-0, in Week 9),” Blackburn said. “They have a tailback similar to theirs, and their quarterback is fast. He can run well and throw well.
“They come at you, but they try to use their speed as they do it,” he added. “They run a lot of shotgun stuff and try to get their backs in open space.”
Although starting tailback Clay Rindal was out last week with a shoulder injury he suffered in the regular-season finale, the Bulldogs got solid performances from two other senior tailbacks — Regand Ardery and John Sinnett — and from senior quarterback Chase Chamberlain. That trio accounted for just over 200 yards and four touchdowns rushing, and Chamberlain’s only completion went for 47 yards and another score.
While the offense was controlling the ball, Stratford’s defense limited Quinton (which also entered the game at 8-2) to just over 100 yards in total offense.
“We had our district meeting last week before those games and everybody felt like they had a good shot,” Blackburn recalled. “You just don’t know. I felt like we would go play well, but I didn’t expect (the 41-point margin of victory).”
One thing the Bulldogs have in their favor this week is the fact that their opponent is somebody other than Tonkawa. In four of Blackburn’s first eight seasons, Stratford was been eliminated in the second round of the playoffs, and three of those losses were to Tonkawa — including last year, when the Buccaneers went on to win the Class A state title.
“This is the round that we seem to have gone out every year, so this team wants to be the one that gets past it,” said Blackburn, who has 12 seniors on his 24-man roster. “It’s going to be a sad deal when these seniors are gone, but they certainly realize that and understand that.
“It’s the playoffs, so I don’t think I’ll have to do anything extra to fire them up,” he added. “We just want to be one of the eight (teams) still standing when the night is over.”