By Kenton Brooks
Phoenix Sports Writer
Chris Risenhoover chuckles when someone suggests that his Stigler football team’s stepping into the Land of the Giants when his Panthers play in the Class 3A quarterfinals at Kingfisher on Friday night.
“They’ll be the best team we’ve seen as far as physical size,” he said. “They’ve got a few guys they put on the field who are 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds.”
Then, there’s Mitch Henderson, a 6-6, 305-pound senior lineman.
If that isn’t big enough, the Yellowjackets also line up junior Henry Holmes, a 6-7, 196-pound free safety.
“You don’t see guys that size very often,” Risenhoover said. “He’s the biggest safety I’ve ever seen.
“They’re physically bigger than us, but that’s all right. Our kids will battle.”
None of the Panthers say they are intimidated, particularly senior safety Ryan Echelle. Echelle enters the game with a school-record 496 tackles. He also has 12 fumble recoveries and seven interceptions in three seasons.
“You know what they say about the bigger they are, the harder they fall,” he said. “They’ve got big guys, but they might not be able to keep up with us.
“I don’t care how big they are. We’ve played against bigger teams in my career, but we don’t have anything to worry about. We’ll be fine.”
Offensive right guard-defensive tackle Logan Palmer (6-2, 260), is Stigler’s biggest starter.
“I’ve watched them on film and that 74 (Henderson) looks like he’s going to be hard to move,” he said. “I’ve played against big guys who have been big and strong. That’s something to think about, but I just have to stay low and drive my feet.
“I’m ready. I know it’s going to be a dogfight. I hope everybody keeps their focus. We know what’s at hand.”
In the Yellowjackets, the Panthers face the classification’s top-ranked team that has scored the most points (540) and yielded the fewest (59) in 3A while building a 12-0 record. Stigler, meanwhile, is 11-2.
Individually, Grant Newton (6-4, 191) quarterbacks the Yellowjackets and has completed 93 of 146 passes for 1,146 yards and 14 touchdowns, while running for 625 yards on 111 carries and 15 TDs. Junior Landon Nault (5-10, 171) leads the rushing attack with 1,467 yards and 24 TDs.
The Panthers have their own set of players putting up big numbers.
Besides Echelle, senior quarterback Cade Shearwood has accounted for a school-record 7,837 yards and 97 touchdowns of offense in his three varsity seasons. He has completed 106 of 191 passes for 1,896 yards and 19 TDs and rushed for 1,679 yards and 20 TDs this season. Seth Sandlin has rushed for 1,147 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Shearwood is confident the Panthers can handle the challenge Friday night.
“They’re just a solid group everywhere and we’ve got our work cut out for us. We just have to hook up on every play and let them know we’re there,” he said. “We’re going to have to play four quarters, but I feel all right about it.”
No one feels better about this game than Risenhoover.
“Hopefully, we’ll get bodies in the right position and let Cade make some decisions back there,” he said. “We’re going to let Seth carry it and create some creases that way.
“While they’re good everywhere, we feel like we’re good on both sides of the ball. I think it’s going to be a heck of a matchup.”
The Stigler-Kingfisher winner advances to the semifinals against the Metro Christian-Seminole winner.