By Bruce Campbell, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Years from now, Cherokee’s 2013 football team likely will toast a regular season in which the 8-0 Chiefs didn’t give up a point.
The Chiefs are the only team in Oklahoma this season that went undefeated and unscored upon. All eight wins were by the 45-point mercy rule.
But they will tell you none of that matters if they don’t win a Class C state title.
“Nothing like that matters now,’’ said Cherokee coach Bryce Schanbacher. “It’s a brand new season now. Everybody starts over. You just hope you show up and get to the next week.’’
The No.2-ranked Chiefs open the playoffs by hosting Southwest Covenant, the fourth place team in District C-4. The Patriots have averaged 41.2 points per game.
Southwest Covenant quarterback Nick Sitton completed 92 of 184 passes for 1,424 yards and 25 touchdowns. Braden Brown caught 45 passes for 723 yards and 10 scores, while Michael Cord had 32 catches for 535 yards and nine touchdowns.
“It’s going to be a test,’’ Schanbacher said. “Their quarterback throws the ball real well and he has two good targets. They don’t drop a lot of passes.’’
Cherokee’s opponents have only hit 40 of 102 passes for 235 yards. Kremlin-Hillsdale had a season-high 86 yards in the air in falling to Cherokee 47-0 Friday.
The Chiefs allowed only 32.8 yards rushing. Twice this season, opponents had negative yards rushing. Kremlin-Hillsdale had only eight yards rushing Friday.
That’s quite a tribute to the starting defensive unit of ends Chris Klick and Trey Salinas, nose guard Zach James, linebackers Alex Castro and Tanner Ducotey and the secondary of Tanner Bowman, Austin Guffy and Avery Bogenstos.
“Everybody has made a big deal of that and the kids took a little pride in it, but it was just our kids working hard and taking pride in what we do,’’ Schanbacher said. “They always wanted to play good defense.’’
The closest anybody has come to scoring on Cherokee this season was Timberlake, which got to the 1-yard line in Cherokee’s 46-0 win on Oct. 25, before being set back.
“We were tested a few times,’’ Schanbacher said, “but the kids stepped up. Nothing like that matters now.’’
At times, Schanbacher thought the streak put a little additional pressure on his younger players.
“You didn’t want to see a younger player give up a big play and feel like it was their fault the streak was over,’’ Schanbacher said. “The young kids did a good job ... it was an overall team effort.
“This group understands what their roles are. They know everybody has to do their part. In 8-man if you’re out of position, somebody can score on you pretty quickly.’’
The Chiefs’ schedule was shortened by two games after Carney and Prue dropped football just before the season.
“That made it kind of difficult on us,’’ Schanbacher said. “We had to leave the starters in longer than we would have like to in some games because they needed to get some more playing time. It was a difficult juggling act. You have to credit the kids how well they work together and communicate.’’
He sees positives and negatives in winning all of his games by the mercy rule. The Chiefs got to play everyone on their roster, but sometimes it’s good to be tested a time or two before the playoffs.
“It’s half-dozen one way and half-dozen the other,’’ Schanbacher said. “That’s something you can’t do much about. You just have to go and perform every week like we have.’’
The Chiefs had plenty of motivation before the season. A year ago they were undefeated in the regular season, but their dream of a second title in three years fell short when they lost to Forgan 24-20 in the semifinals.
“That’s been our motivation all year,’’ Schanbacher said about the semifinal loss. “We didn’t feel like we did some things that we could have done. We didn’t play like we felt we were capable of playing.’’
Cherokee is well versed in the playoffs with this being the team’s fourth-straight trip to the postseason. Schanbacher is glad it’s finally here.
“You’re always excited when playoff time comes around,’’ he said. “Practices have a different feel. Even in the hallways between classes, there’s a good atmosphere. That excitement carries over into practice and into Friday’s game. It’s a lot of fun.’’
The Chiefs have had a lot of fun on offense, too, averaging 48.4 points per game, while averaging 257.1 yards rushing per contest. The Chiefs have not thrown an interception this season and have lost only three fumbles.
The scoring was well-balanced with Bowman scoring 12 touchdowns, Ducotey 15, Austin Guffy eight and Alex Castro six.
With a win, Cherokee would host the Corn Bible-Balko winner. No. 3-ranked Shattuck looms in the wings in the semifinals.
No. 1-ranked Tipton is on the other side of the bracket and opens against Waynoka.
“You have to always be on this week,’’ Schanbacher said. “You can’t afford to overlook anybody. You never know what could happen.’’