In three decades as Sulphur’s head coach, Jim Dixon has never had a season like this one.
The 2010 Bulldogs struggled through their first eight games, winning just twice while facing one of Class 3A’s toughest schedules. Sulphur quickly dropped out of the race for the District 3A-2 championship, and, by all rights, the Bulldogs should also have been out of playoff contention after losing three of their first four district games.
Strangely enough, though, the strength at the top of 3A-2 actually worked to Sulphur’s benefit. With a sizeable gap between the league’s top three teams — Madill, Plainview and Purcell — and the other four, Dixon’s club was able to stay in contention for the district’s final playoff spot.
Coming off a tough 21-19 loss to red-hot Plainview (the current 3A-2 leader after five straight wins) in Week 8, Sulphur took care of business in Week 9, trouncing Pauls Valley, 49-6 to improve to 2-3 in league play. Now, although they technically trail Lone Grove (a team they beat 42-41 earlier in the season), by a point in overall district scoring, the Bulldogs finally have the inside track to the program’s 27th playoff berth in the last 28 years.
While Sulphur visits Dickson this week, Lone Grove will entertain a Purcell squad that was ranked in the 3A top 10 for a good chunk of the season. Despite losing their starting quarterback earlier this fall, the Dragons have to be favored Friday night in a game Lone Grove not only has to win but has to win by 15 points.
Sulphur’s game with Dickson is one of only two with playoff implications involving area teams on the final week of the regular season.
Ada, 5-4 overall and 4-2 in District 5A-1, can wrap up the No. 3 spot in the league standings with a victory Friday at No. 8 Deer Creek. Elsewhere, though, the playoff scenarios — or lack thereof — seem to be set.
Stratford (7-2, 3-2) has already clinched the third spot in District A-5 and will be a solid favorite to wrap up its best regular season since 2005 at A-5 have-not Maysville; Holdenville (7-2, 3-2) is also assured of the third spot in its district (2A-5) and will close the regular season at Meeker; Coalgate, second in District 2A-4 and the only local team that will host a first-round playoff game, will try to finish off a 6-4 regular season and a 6-1 district slate at winless Konawa; and Allen — eliminated from the District B-3 race after losses the past three weeks, will try to salvage a 6-4 campaign at Canadian.
“You just don’t ever know,” Dixon said before Monday’s practice. “Purcell should beat Lone Grove, but you never know. “It would be good for our younger kids to get into the playoffs, even if we play an extremely good team (the Bulldogs will meet unbeaten Anadarko in the first round if they make the postseason). “We’ve got to beat Dickson by 15 and hope Lone Grove doesn’t beat Purcell by 15. You just never know.”
Dixon said a 4-6 team reaching the playoffs is a symptom of what he called the “mess” created in Class 3A when all of Oklahoma’s classes were re-aligned this fall.
“That’s just part of this messed-up district alignment we have this year,” he explained. “With only seven teams in seven districts and eight in the other, it doesn’t take as many wins to get in. 3A is just a mess right now.”
Wins have been hard to find for Sulphur this fall, but Dixon’s club has been competitive in most of its games. The Bulldogs had a 13-0 first-quarter lead before Plainview scored 21 unanswered points, and they also suffered tough losses to Purcell and Marlow earlier in the season.
“Our kids played extremely hard at Plainview two weeks ago, and they’re getting a little better every week,” Dixon said. “We’ve been real proud of them.”
Sulphur’s biggest improvement has been on the defensive side of the ball. After giving up huge chunks of yardage early in the season, Mart Leming’s defensive unit has been a lot tougher to move on in the last month.
“We played a lot better defensively the last four weeks,” Dixon said. “Madill got some big plays in the second half, but we played well against them. We had a chance to beat Plainview, and they came back to beat Madill last week.”
The Bulldogs seemed to take out all of their frustration from the first eight weeks of the season out on Pauls Valley last week.
“Pauls Valley can be pretty good at times, but our kids played extremely well.”
Dixon said his young club can’t afford to have a letdown this week against a 2-7 Dickson squad.
“Dickson has only won two games, but it won’t be easy,” he predicted. “We have to go play and be sure we keep improving. Hopefully we’ll get into the playoffs and go from there.”