The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

November 19, 2012

Coach: Balko game was good for Chiefs

ENID, Okla. — How dominant have No. 2-ranked Cherokee and No. 3-ranked Forgan been in Class C football in 2012?

Nine of Cherokee’s 12 wins were by the 45-point mercy rule — the closest of the other three was a 36-8 decision over Deer Creek-Lamont on Oct. 12.

Eight of Forgan’s 11 wins were by the mercy rule; the closest of the other three was a 58-34 win over Balko on Oct. 26. The Bulldogs beat Deer Creek-Lamont 46-8 in the quarterfinals.

So will conditioning be a factor when the two teams meet in the state semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Woodward?

“You don’t know how you handle that until you get in those situations,’’ said Cherokee coach Bryce Schanbacher.

For that reason, Schanbacher welcomed the challenge Cherokee had in a 30-0 win over Balko last week.

“Our kids were going hard until the end,’’ he said. “I told them Balko was a great ballteam — physical and fast and will hit you in the mouth. I told the kids we needed a game like that. More than anything, the kids needed to prove to themselves that they could go out and compete with a good team.’’

Schanbacher expects Forgan to handle it as well.

“They only have about 15 kids, so you know they will be in great shape,’’ he said.

Something will have to give Friday. Cherokee is averaging 52 points a game on offense while allowing only 8.9 points per game. Forgan is averaging 52.3 points and allowing only 7.6.

“It’s going to be pretty tough,’’ Schanbacher said. “They got athletes on both sides of the ball.’’

Quarterback Dalton Lemieux has thrown for 1,711 yards and 22 touchdowns. He’s run for another 1,039 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Trevin Lopez has rushed for 844 yards and 21 scores. Jake Regier has caught 26 passes for 632 yards and six TDs. Kameron Hall has 19 catches for 451 yards and eight scores.

Cherokee matches up well with Forgan everywhere, except in the passing game. The Bulldog receivers are taller than the Chiefs’ secondary.

“It comes down to who makes the fewest mistakes,’’ Schanbacher said. “Ball control and field position are a big key also.’’

Cherokee’s defense has forced 29 turnovers (16 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries), while throwing only two interceptions and losing 11 fumbles. That’s a plus-16 takeaway-giveaway ratio.

Cherokee is averaging 295.3 yards per game with an explosive backfield of quarterback Tanner Bowman (24 touchdowns and 14 touchdown passes), fullback Alex Castro (10 touchdowns) and running back Josh Argraves (23 touchdowns).

They have run behind a solid offensive line of guards Michael Lucas, Trey Salinas and Zach James, center Grant DeWitt and tight end Landon Schanbacher.

“We have to be patient on offense,’’ said coach Schanbacher. “If we’re forced to punt, we can’t panic. We just have to keep our composure, try to convert and move the chains.’’

Bowman had three 40-plus yard runs against Balko — 41, 60 and 71.

“He found the hole quick enough to shoot through there and get past most people,’’ said coach Schanbacher.

Balko became only the second team to rush for more than 100 yards (175) against Cherokee last week. They had another 92 in the air for a total of 267. But the Chiefs got the shutout on the strength of five turnovers, including an intereception in the end zone and a fumble recovery at the two-yard line.

“We take the bend-but-don’t-break approach,’’ said coach Schanbacher. “We have to keep them in front of us, because they can score anywhere on the field. We have to have stops.’’

Cherokee has given up only six touchdown passes this season, four of which came in a 70-24 victory over Carney the third week of the season. They have given up seven rushing touchdowns, the longest of which was 60 yards.

Schanbacher doesn’t expect the holidays to be a distraction. Cherokee is out of school all week. It’s the second time in the past three years, the Chiefs are playing on Thanksgiving weekend. Forgan’s seniors have played on Thanksgiving weekend three of the past four years.

“I think everyone understands it’s not that very often you get an opportunity to still be playing football at this time,’’ coach Schanbacher said. “People are making good accommodations for us.’’

With school being out, Schanbacher has had to juggle some things around. Cherokee is practicing at its normal time, except for Thanksgiving Day, when it will go in the morning.

Schanbacher wants his players to keep a normal schedule as well and not to be obsessed with the game.

“We don’t want it to consume their lives,’’ he said. “We want them to relax and still enjoy things and be a kid. When it’s time to play or practice, they have been ready.’’

Excitement around the community has been building as Cherokee goes for its second state title in three years.

“Everybody is real proud of the kids,’’ said coach Schanbacher. “Friday was the loudest that I’ve heard in a long time. There were a lot of people here.’’

CHEROKEE vs. FORGAN

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Woodward.

Records: Cherokee 12-0, Forgan 11-0

AP Ranking: Cherokee No. 2, Forgan No. 3.

Next: Winner plays Tipton-Sharon-Mutual winner.

Radio: None

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