After coughing up nearly 500 yards of offense to the best team in the east, a lozenge is in order this week for Muskogee’s defense against a Stillwater team averaging 44 points per contest.
The Roughers are also coming off the worst offensive showing of the year, registering just over 150 yards of offense and no points for the first time all season, with the fumble return by Kaleb Biglow being the only points in the 51-7 throttling by Bixby.
Facts and figures weren’t the major concern for Muskogee head coach Rafe Watkins as he got set to meet with his team Monday.
“After our defense got its first three-and-out and we fumbled the punt, the air went out of us, and even when we got within 16-7 we still had no emotion,” he said. “We’ve been underdogs in some games and we haven’t won all of our games, but we fought every game.
“We didn’t fight the other night. It was so frustrating to see us put up no resistance. Not to take anything away from Bixby, which played a great game, but it shouldn’t have been that type of score.”
Senior defensive lineman Nikaury Ruffin, one of the locker room leaders, was asked about why that was.
“We’ve got to change something — mind set, whatever. Something didn’t work and I know the coaches will get us straight,” he said.
“I mean this team we are facing is 10-0? That means they’re really talented or they are well-coached or they listen to everything their coach tells them to do. I’m pretty sure they got a lot of older guys, unlike us, but that doesn’t matter. At the end of the day you listen to what you have to do and try your hardest no matter what.”
Fellow lineman Jeremiah Jarrett, another senior, expanded on that.
“It’s on us to finish everything, finish the week, finish every play, perfect practice every day. For us to have the No. 1 team in front of us, everything has to go well,” he said.
All of that jibes, except much of the Pioneers’ core is not yet seniors.
Offensively, the eye-catching name is at quarterback. Gunnar Gundy is the junior son of Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy. His size (6-1, 185) somewhat limits his recruiting value, but his accuracy is excellent, a 70 percent completion rate. His main target is 6-3 junior Anthony Bland, a transfer from San Diego with 1,200 yards there a year ago. His mom was hired in the OSU recruiting office.
It’s also not an offense that has to focus on him. Qwontrel Walker, a sophomore running back, ran for 262 yards and four TDs in last week’s district-clinching 35-21 win over Del City and is over 1,500 yards for the year.
Watkins said it’s an offense that is most effective in the Cowboy set, a three-back inverted wishbone with two fullback types in Ty Boone at 191 pounds and Luke McEndoo, a 235-pound sophomore whose dad, Jason McEndoo, is the OSU tight end and ironically, Cowboy Backs coach.
Boone is a senior and so are the mammoth bookend tackles, Hazer Xanders (6-foot-5, 275 pounds) and Brandon Hardesty (6-8, 318).
“They ran power eight times in a row against Lawton and averaged 6-8 yards a pop,” Watkins said. “If they get that going against us they may not get out of it.
“Gundy’s obviously a student of the game from where he comes from. But in their regular sets, as the tailback and line goes, so goes the offense. That line was good when we played them two years ago and it’s better now.”
The Pioneers’ 3-4 base defense involves a lot of pre-snap movement in the front seven.
“At the snap they’re get in their gaps but that’s why you run stretch and zone (offensively). You’re blocking an area and not a man,” Watkins said.
Muskogee was able to handle that in the last meeting, prevailing 24-22 on a last-second field goal, but with an offense that was more balanced with receivers who could stretch the field. The current unit is focused on the feet of Ty Williams at quarterback and running back Jimmie Coleman.
The last meeting had both teams in opposite roles. Stillwater was the fourth-place team out 6AII-1. Muskogee was the district champion in 6AII-2.
The uphill look this time is with the Roughers.
“We’ve got a one in eight chance at winning a state championship. That should be worth fighting for. Will it be tough? Sure, but it’s equally tough for teams like them and Bixby. You still have to win three ball games to do it,” Watkins said.
Perhaps an added motivation: there’s some big-time college coaches who while leisurely watching this game, will certainly take note of what they see.
“You hope that’s not why they’re going to play hard, but it certainly won’t hurt you,” said Watkins.
Kickoff is 7 p.m. Friday.