By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
The howls of despair already are being heard in some corners after the Plainsmen dropped their football home opener 36-16 to Guthrie on Friday. Comments such as “it’s going to be another long season for the Plainsmen,” and “I don’t know what the coaches are doing” were prevalent across Facebook following the loss. Here’s a piece of advice: Step back and take a deep breath. It’s far too soon for such downcast thoughts and words.
A quick look at Friday’s score may give the impression the Plainsmen are not much different from last year’s edition, which went 3-7 and lost by 23 points to Guthrie. But the fact is the Plainsmen gave undefeated and top-ranked in Class 5A Guthrie its first real battle, holding leads of 10-0, 10-8 and 16-15 before being worn down late by a dynamic and bruising running game led by likely Division 1 recruit Kai Callins who gained 179 yards.
Guthrie cannot be dismissed as just a Class 5A team. The Bluejays are a handful for most 6A teams. They put a 49-point hurt on Ponca City the week before in a 62-13 wipeout that could have been far worse if they had not called off the dogs late. The Bluejays opened with a 46-6 win over Duncan.
Granted, the loss to Guthrie revealed some areas of real concern, not the least of which is figuring out kickoff return coverage as the Plainsmen were frequently burned with the Bluejays setting up in Enid territory. The Plainsmen would have been better off just kicking the ball out of bounds and taking a penalty.
The Plainsmen also must do something to shore up the middle of their defense. Besides Callins on Friday, Idae Alexander rushed for 107 yards, making for three running backs that have rushed for over 100 yards this season in the first three games, with Choctaw’s Kenny Tisdale going for 197 yards in the opener. Enid has shown the ability to stop a top-notch tailback though, limiting Edmond Memorial’s Warren Wand to 98 yards in the Plainsmen’s 32-27 win in Week 2.
But the Plainsmen have their fair share of playmakers and figure to be just fine on offense, led by explosive junior Raheem Mitchell, who leads the team in both rushing with 330 yards, and receiving, with 160 yards. Mitchell showed his toughness and speed with a dazzling 80-yard touchdown Friday on a screen pass from junior quarterback Freddy Lawrence that temporarily gave Enid the lead back at 16-15. Lawrence himself has shown he is growing comfortable leading the offense.
Enid also has a dynamic secondary that has picked off six passes, and opposing offenses dread throwing against the likes of seniors Marshawn Mills, Aaron Beagle and Alex Lofton. Lofton, one of Enid’s top playmakers on offense and defense, was held out of the Guthrie game with a sprained ankle and is expected back against Bartlesville for homecoming this week.
This week’s game against Bartlesville begins the real season as it is the district opener. Enid may be 1-2, but have not exactly played a bunch of cupcakes. The combined record of their opponents is 7-2, with surprising Choctaw now 2-1 after defeating Putnam City West 45-28 Friday and Edmond Memorial raised its record to 2-1, its only loss coming to Enid, with a 40-10 win over Deer Creek Edmond.
Bartlesville, a team the Plainsmen lost to 44-42 on the last play last season, is 2-1 but has not faced a Class 6A team this year. The Bruins opened with a loss to 5A Bishop Kelley 31-24, then defeated 5A East Central 44-14 and 5A Skiatook on Friday, 41-10. The combined record of Bartlesville’s opponents is 2-7.
The Plainsmen have a reasonable expectation to open 1-0 in district play after using the first three weeks to get ready for district. The team is employing a new 3-4 defensive scheme and breaking in several first-time varsity players who are showing quick development. By comparison, Guthrie returned 16 starters this season.
There remains an air of confidence and determination in the Enid locker room and the coaching staff appears to be cohesive and as determined as the players.
The turnout at Selby Stadium Friday against Guthrie was one of the more enthusiastic home crowds of the past couple of seasons, showing up in a sea of pink for Win-Win night in the fight against cancer. Friday’s loss should not dampen that spirit.
At the risk of coach-speak, all of the team’s goals remain in front of Enid, first and foremost of which is making the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The real season begins Friday. It’s hardly time to despair.
Ruthenberg is sports editor at
the News & Eagle. Contact him at