By Ryan Costello, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
KINGFISHER, Okla. — —
Grant Newton recited their names like a roll call without the roll, listing his teammates by memory.
“Jake Blair, Mitch Henderson, Cole Cameron, Jared Hendrix, Grant Borelli, Tyler Shepard, Chris Ludwig...” the Yellowjackets’ senior quarterback went on.
There were 11 in all, including Newton.
Four years ago, he came to an agreement with each of them.
“This same group that’s still playing, we promised each other that, whenever we’re seniors, we’re going to get there, and we’re going to win it,” Newton said.
They’ve had their chances — a 35-0 loss to Lincoln Christian in 2009 and a 28-21 loss to Heritage Hall a year later — but as their high school football careers draw to a close, the deal remains unsealed.
At 7:30 p.m. in the 3A State Championship against Blanchard, the Yellowjackets’ senior class gets one more title shot, the third time in four years Kingfisher will finish its season at Oklahoma State’s Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater.
“This will be my last game regardless, and we know — I know that if we go out of this thing with silver, I’m not going to be happy about it,” Newton said.
Kingfisher head coach Jeff Myers, who has led three teams to runner-up finishes, downplayed the stakes as much as could be done with a state title game, explaining most high school athletes will complete four seasons without playing in one championship, let alone three. The same goes for coaches, the ninth-year Yellowjacket skipper said.
“There’s two ways to look at it,” Myers said. “I feel extremely fortunate and blessed to have played for one, and on the other hand, when you’ve been there like we have, and we seem to be coming up short, it obviously is frustrating. But there are a lot of other coaches around the state that are very well-respected, and they’ve had long coaching careers — 30-some years — and they’ve never had an opportunity to play for one.”
Behind a defense that has allowed less than seven points per game in 2012, including five straight shutouts that spanned the entire month of October, Kingfisher is favored against Blanchard — the first time in any of the Yellowjackets’ championship experience they’ve been expected to win.
But in a sense, they’re already behind.
Before the Yellowjackets even opened their eventually undefeated regular season, Kingfisher visited Blanchard for a preseason scrimmage. During the first portion, an unscored back-and-forth of 10 plays for each team, the Yellowjackets thrived.
The rest was a different story.
The Lions dominated the exhibition’s scored festivities, topping Kingfisher 21-7 in a two-quarter game. Myers and many of his players consider the regular season a sort of halftime before the rest of their game against Blanchard.
“They kind of rubbed our nose in it,” Myers said. “(Tonight) we’re going to finish our ball game.”
It might not hurt to consider Friday’s 0-0 opening score a deficit. To a man, Kingfisher players and coaches agreed the team entered its second scrimmage, the next after a throughout thumping of Piedmont in its first exhibition and not long after, the Yellowjackets were tabbed 3A’s consensus preseason No. 1, acting as if they’d already won.
“They hit us in the mouth,” Newton said. “They were ready to go, and we were a little taken aback. They took it to us, and we have that boiling in us ready to prove to them that’s not what we’re about.”
“We just came out flat,”said junior running back Landon Nault. “It was kind of a good wakeup call for us, coming up ranked high early and thinking we were on top of the world, it was a good wakeup call.”
Blanchard has had an awakening of its own in the past three weeks of the postseason. The Lions’ defense, while stout, isn’t as fierce as their opponents, allowing 15 points per game in the regular season. That number jumped to 32 points per contest in the final three weeks of the regular season, which included the Lions’ only loss of 2012 (Tuttle, 56-34) and the opening-round of the playoffs, a 41-33 win over Cushing.
Since then, Blanchard and the Lion defense haven’t been challenged, dispatching Madill, Hilldale and Jones by a combined score of 137-14.
“Defensively, they’re the fastest team that we’ve played,” said Newton, who surpassed the 1,000-yard mark on the ground with a 183-yard rushing performance in the Yellowjackets’ 31-26 semifinal win against Seminole. “Their ends are very fast, they have hard-hitting linebackers and they have speed in the secondary.”
The Lions’ offense is even more dangerous.
Quarterback Brock Lamie has completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,339 yards and 29 scores against nine interceptions. On the ground, bowling-ball running back Braden Stringer (5-foot-8, 175) has rushed for 1,266 yards and 19 touchdowns, averaging almost 10 yards per carry along the way.
“They’re a great team,” Myers said. “They have some great weapons, a great receiver, their quarterback’s a great runner and passer, and they’ve got some size up front.”
But whatever happens, and despite the Yellowjacket seniors’ high hopes, Myers said, having as many opportunities as they’ve had is an achievement on its own.
“When you do that at a school at our size, there’s nothing they’re going to hang their heads about,” he said. “It’s been a tremendous four years that they’ve been here, but for them to go out on top (tonight) would simply be the cherry on top.”