By Bruce Campbell, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Pioneer coach Kurt Myers doesn’t expect No. 8 Okeene to have a letdown following last week’s 14-0 loss to Thomas when the Mustangs host the No. 8 Whippets at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“I don’t know if there is a good time to play Okeene because they are always going to be ready to go,’’ Myers said.
Myers speaks from experience. The Whippets have outscored the Mustangs 141-34 in his three meetings against Okeene. The Whippets lead the series 15-2, including winning the last five meetings.
“The kids look forward to getting back on the field,’’ said Okeene head coach Jeff Wardlaw. “We want to play as soon as possible to get the sour taste out of our mouths. We always say the most important game of the season is the next game. We have had good practices this week.’’
The taste may have been especially sour for the Whippets, who had three turnovers, two of which came in the red zone on their first two possessions.
“We were moving the ball and we didn’t get any points,’’ Wardlaw said. “If we had, it could have been a big difference in the game.
“Any time you have an opportunity to beat a team with the tradition as good as Thomas, you really feel grumpy to let one get away. This is not to say we would have won the game, but it would have been interesting.’’
Actually, the timing is a lot worse for Pioneer, which lost star wide receiver-defensive back Blake Gabriel in their 35-20 loss to Mooreland last week. Gabriel broke a bone in his arm.
Myers said he doesn’t know how long Gabriel will be out, but said there’s a chance he could get back.
“Anytime you lose your leader, you’re hurting,’’ Myers said. “We have some capable guys that can step up.’’
Gabriel’s loss will put more emphasis on running back Chase Courter and end Charles Clardy.
“We’ll continue to do what we do,’’ Myers said. “We always tell the backups they are a play away from being in there.’’
Connor Mercado will take Gabriel’s place in the secondary and will get more reps at wide receiver.
Myers said Gabriel remained in good spirits.
“He’s such a positive kid,’’ Myers said. “You don’t see any difference in his personality, but you know he’s disappointed. He comes from a good family. I don’t think it will affect this attitude.’’
Pioneer had lost starting lineman Dom Benitez to a broken hand in the final practice before the Mooreland game.
He is being replaced by Cody Smith on offense and a rotation of players on defense.
“Injuries are part of the game,’’ Myers said. “We have to move on.’’
Myers said his first concern is with the Mustangs and not Okeene. Okeene is at the beginning of a difficult stretch that includes games with traditional powers Snyder, Cashion, Watonga and Crescent.
Myers pointed out Pioneer started the season 0-7 last year and still was playing for a playoff berth the 10th week of the season.
“We play a tough schedule to get better,’’ he said. “We have to look at this game as a non-district game. It will have no impact on whether we’ll compete for a playoff spot.
“We’re more concerned about getting better and getting our stuff down. We have to do a better job of taking care of the ball and not giving up big plays.’’
Mooreland turned two Pioneer turnovers into scores and scored on two big plays. The Bearcats had one long drive for a score.
“We progressed from Week 1 (34-0 loss to Fairview) to Week 2,’’ Myers said. “We’re night and day better on defense than we were last year. Fairview and Mooreland both struck us last year. We haven’t gotten struck this year.’’
Pioneer gave up 105 points to open the season a year ago with losses to Fairview (63-8) and Mooreland (42-15).
“They are bigger up front than we are,’’ Wardlaw said of the Mustangs. “Our focus has been on controlling the line of scrimmage. Our defensive side is not where we need to be. Pioneer will show us what we’re made of.’’
Okeene (1-1) at Pioneer (0-2)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Series: Okeene leads 15-2
Last: Okeene won 45-20, 2012