By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
A shortened week could not have come at a better time for the Enid Plainsmen (2-4, 1-2), who travel to face longtime rival Ponca City for a 7 p.m. kickoff in an important District 6A-1 contest.
Plainsmen head coach Steve Chard said the abridged schedule helped the team quickly put its 52-0 loss to Tulsa Union behind it.
“On Sunday, we started working on Ponca City because it’s a short week,” he said.
It gave the team a chance to focus on the task at hand — picking up a district win, while avenging last year’s heartbreaking 21-20 loss at home — instead of dwelling on the past two weeks, admittedly against some steep competition.
“You do your process to get ready the same every week and we did that (in preparing for Union),” Chard said. “We worked our butts off and tried to get ready as best we could for Union.”
But just as Chard doesn’t let the setbacks against Tulsa Washington (23-13) and Union, linger, he doesn’t want to focus too much on this being a revenge game for the Plainsmen, though he said he did discuss it with the team.
“I did address it on Sunday,” he said. “I told them that if I were a player in that game I would want a piece of them. Besides that, it’s a really big district game and keeps our playoff aspirations alive, and it’s a team that if we play well, we should beat.
The Plainsmen earlier this season exorcised some demons from last year when Enid topped Bartlesville 28-23, avenging a four-game losing streak in the series and last year’s 44-42 last-play loss to the Bruins. Their game against Ponca City last season was equally heartbreaking.
After building a 14-0 lead in last year’s contest, the Plainsmen watched the Wildcats rally back for a 21-20 win with the winning touchdown coming on a 70-yard punt return that resulted in Enid’s fifth straight loss in what would become a six-game losing streak.
It also was Ponca City’s first win in the series since 2005.
The Wildcats enter tonight’s game 0-6 overall and have been outscored 267-27 this season, including a 57-7 loss to Sand Springs last week, in addition to shutout district losses to Owasso (24-0) and Stillwater (41-0). The Wildcats have been shut out three times this season with their other goose egg coming at the hands of 5A Shawnee Sept. 20 in a 35-0 loss. Their other losses have been against 5A power Guthrie (62-13) and Sapulpa, 48-7 in their season-opener.
But, just as Chard and his team aren’t focusing on the revenge factor, they also aren’t looking past the Wildcats.
“I know they (Ponca City) are going to be excited for this (game),” he said. “They’re going to be fighting and clawing saying ‘hey this is our best chance at home against a 2-4 team to get a win against a team we beat last year.’ They’ve had a tough go (this season), I understand that,” he said.
The Wildcats have struggled running the ball this season with their top rusher, Dexter Arita, rushing for 27 yards. Quarterback Michael Mongold has passed for 719 yards, but has thrown only two touchdowns and eight interceptions. But, the Wildcats have also been their own worst enemy at times.
“They’ve made crucial errors in the red zone,” Chard noted. “To me, those are correctable errors. It’s not about lack of skill. Last week they were down 7-0 to Sand Springs and against their first string defense, go all the way down the field and fumble on the 1-inch line. They are fixing to tie the game 7-7 ... your confidence wanes when you get that fumble. But at some point they are going to get that problem fixed and punch those in. They moved right down the field against Owasso, so they are not inept in any way.
“The last thing we can do is overlook anybody,” Chard said. “We need a win and we need it badly.”
To get that win, according to Chard, the Plainsmen will need to get their own ground game going again.
After junior tailback Raheem Mitchell’s 253-yard rushing performance against Bartlesville, Mitchell has been bottled up, gaining 34 yards against Tulsa Washington and 61 yards against Union.
“We need to reestablish Raheem and (Raeshaan) Finley off tackle,” Chard said. “I feel like we can do that. The O-Line has had a good season.”
The Wildcats allowed 106 yards rushing and 251 yards passing in their loss last week to Sand Springs and Enid will hope to exploit the Wildcats’ pass defense as well.
“We need to get a little harmony in the passing game and how it marries up with the run,” Chard said. “We haven’t thrown the ball well the last couple of weeks, but (quarterback) Fred Lawrence played real well last week. He tucked the ball and ran and threw some pretty good balls. We think Fred is back rolling.”
Lawrence was the team’s leading rusher with 64 yards on the ground against Union. He also was 12-of-20 passing after struggling with a 7-of-21 performance against Washington.
Chard also thinks Enid High’s defense is making steady progress.
“The guys are running around pretty good,” Chard said. “The DB’s are understanding the shifts and the movement and the rolling of our coverages and the blitzes that marry up with that and that makes kids faster.
“Marshawn (Mills) and Chris Daniels have really gotten a handle on it at deep safety and the defensive end play has been really good with (Austin) Duplantis and (Caleb) Harris. There’s been some good things happening and we expect to play well Thursday.”
With back-to-back games against Washington and Union in the rear-view mirror, the Plainsmen now have a chance to build momentum toward a playoff run with games against Owasso, Stillwater and Sand Springs to finish out the season after their visit to Ponca City.
Chard said he has mentioned the playoffs to the team, but prefers to keep tonight’s task as the primary focus.
“There’s enough to do in the daily practice regimen to keep you busy,” he said, adding he tells his players to just worry about the next snap at practice.
“This is a big game,” Chard said. “We get that. It’s a good feeling to know and hope that if we play our very best, and Ponca plays their very best, that we will come out on top.”
NOTES: Sophomore Devin Pratt is back in the starting lineup tonight at strong safety after missing the Union game with a knee ailment ... Juniors Jesse Cartwright and D’Angelo Williams have worked their way into the starting lineup at the corners for tonight’s game against the Wildcats.