By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News & Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Back-to-back 3-7 seasons could give the appearance the Enid Plainsmen football team may not have made progress in Steve Chard’s second season as head coach. However, scratch below the surface of the Plainsmen’s fifth-place finish in District 6A-1 and there are reasons to believe progress has been made and the future holds promise.
The Plainsmen’s roster increased from 56 players in 2012 to 92 players in 2013, penalties were down significantly, a pair of offensive stars emerged at the key positions of quarterback and running back who should be back for another year. Also, the team was in every game except for Union and the defense limited some high-powered offenses to season-low outputs, while putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks despite a serious lack of size.
Still, Chard recognizes not everybody will be quick to notice those improvements.
“There’s no moral victory with 3-7,” Chard said. “We were in a couple of games that could have gone either way.”
That included an opening season loss to Choctaw that saw several Enid players making their varsity debut in a 41-28 loss to a pretty good Choctaw team that appeared to be rolling this season until losing its top tailback to injury. The Plainsmen also battled hard against 5A top dog Guthrie in a 36-16 loss and were up 13-3 at halftime against Owasso before falling 35-20.
However, one should not get the impression the Plainsmen’s best efforts were in losing causes as Enid took down a good Edmond Memorial squad 32-27 and exacted revenge for a pair of late losses last season to Bartlesville and Ponca City with wins. Avoiding late collapses and fighting to the end against good squads like Booker T. Washington and Sand Springs were departures from last year.
“I was pleased with our end-of-game execution that we lacked last year to win tight games,” Chard said.
But one problem for Enid was size. It seems Enid just isn’t growing them big enough.
“The bottom line in 6A football that caught up with us at the end of games was that we were kind of small,” Chard said. “It wasn’t a fourth quarter collapse as much as physics got in the way.”
And, according to Chard, those physics took their toll.
“I would see Isiah Singleton, Austin Duplanits and Caleb Harris at the end of the game after playing on the defensive line and they looked like they had been in a car wreck. That’s a tribute to them. What they were asked to do at their size was formidable and they did a great job of it. Isiah’s hands were bloody every game, getting double-teamed by guys, both of whom often outweighed him by 100 pounds. It’s just ridiculous to have 400, 500 pounds leaning on you when you weigh 190.
“Those are things (size disadvantage) that I can’t control and neither can they, but I thought our execution was better at critical times.”
In spite of its lack of size, the defense still made a big leap this season in pressuring the quarterback, going from four sacks in 2012 to 15 sacks this past season. Additionally, Harris’ nine tackles for loss set a Plainsmen single-season mark.
The Enid offense also put up some impressive numbers under junior quarterback Fred Lawrence and junior tailback Raheem Mitchell, players that Chard is excited to have returning, marking the first time he has had a returning QB-RB tandem.
Lawrence finished among the all-time single season leaders at Enid by completing 56 percent of his passes this season, as well Top-10 marks in completions (139) and attempts (248). He had several multiple touchdown games and topped the 300-yard mark passing twice as well.
Mitchell, another of Enid’s undersized performers, listed generously at 5-7, 160 pounds, finished with 1,214 yards rushing for third overall in Class 6A, and his rushing total was seventh all-time for a single season at Enid.
“He’s got some of that God-given ability, but I think his biggest attribute is his toughness,” Chard said regarding Mitchell. “He’s like a piece of steel; it’s hard to hurt him. Toughness (at tailback) is paramount and he is very tough. He works hard to maintain that physique and you couple that with great breakaway speed and that sideways movement and his short stature, he’s hard to find. All those combine to make a really good back. He’s a college prospect.”
Senior Mason Camp also developed into one of the most reliable placekickers in 6A this season after struggling in 2012. His seven field goals in eight attempts placed him third all-time in single-season field goals and sixth on the EHS career list.
The Plainsmen will lose several playmakers at wide receiver and in the secondary, losing their top two receivers this past season in Alex Lofton and Aaron Beagle, in addition to playmaking safety Marshawn Mills, who also was fourth on the team in receiving. They also lose a top two-way performer in Sam Clemens. But juniors D’Angelo Williams and Jesse Cartwright emerged midway in the season, and combined with some promising sophomores, may cushion the blow of those losses.
Chard also is encouraged by the return of center Joel Sanchez who didn’t miss a play this season, and believes the team will benefit by having developed several “program” players who are moving up through the system, from freshmen to JV. Chard said several players already are back at work in the weight room.
“I feel there are some guys that are really in to the program, and that’s what coaching is about,” Chard said. “It’s not about catching lightning in a bottle for one year … it’s how you progress and get better … there’s been great improvement in the overall program and that’s a tribute to the coaches and our kids.
“We’re excited about getting going again (next season). It will be here sooner than you know it.”
New home: This was Enid’s last year (at least for a couple of seasons) in what will now be known as Class 6A-Division I and moves to 6A-II with schools more in their size range enrollment-wise. Enid’s new district will include Putnam City West, Choctaw, Lawton, Lawton Eisenhower, Midwest City and Stillwater. But, while the new alignment may afford Enid a better postseason shot, Chard makes a valid point, pointing out that heading into the second round of the 6A playoffs, only one of Enid’s district foes was still in the hunt (Union), while two that will be in Enid’s new district, Lawton and Midwest City, advanced.
“It’s going to be very competitive,” Chard said. “You better bring it every week in 6A.”
NOTES: The Plainsmen will hold their annual football awards banquet Dec. 4 at the EHS food court … Enid will play four non-district games next season, opening at home against Ponca City, traveling to Sand Springs and hosting Bartlesville in the first three weeks. They will venture out of district again in Week 7 with 5A Tahlequah coming in. Enid’s district will consist of only seven teams, as the eighth team, U.S. Grant, will complete as an independent through 2016.