– BY MICHAEL KNIGHT
It’s August and it’s time for football season! Over the next three weeks, we’ll have daily content on OKPreps previewing the 2018 football season. We continue our preview series with the 4A Season Preview. Get a breakdown on all the top contenders, storylines to follow, players and games to watch and who we have making it all the way to the championship game.
Heritage Hall Chargers
We’ll keep this one short because this is the Class 4A preview and we’ll have plenty of time to discuss Heritage Hall in the 3A preview. The Chargers went a perfect 14-0 and dominated in the playoffs on the way to the state championship. In fact, we’re guaranteed to see two new teams competing for this year’s title. Champion Heritage Hall has dropped down to 3A and runner-up Ada has moved up to 5A football this year. 4A is completely wide open this year.
Team To Beat
The Poteau Pirates are currently the preseason pick to capture the 4A gold ball. But as you’ll figure out pretty quickly in this preview, so much can change between now and November. But for now, you have to like what the Pirates bring back on both sides of the ball. On offense, they bring back their quarterback Jett Pitchford. But all eyes will be on Pitchford’s running mate in the backfield Easton Francis. The junior was just about as dynamic as any player in 4A football. And with the majority of starters returning on offense and defense, added with Poteau’s recent history of being one of the top teams in 4A, the Pirates get the nod as the team to beat entering the 2018 season. Another sign that this could be Poteau’s year is the fact that their most difficult games during district play will be at home this fall.
Broken Bow Savages
It’s been a few years since Broken Bow has been considered a contender coming into a season. The Savages returned to prominence last fall when they went from a 3-7 team in 2016 to 10-2 last fall. The Savages were led by a defense that was one of the best in 4A football. They only gave up 20+ points on three occasions, one of those coming to eventual state champion Heritage Hall in the 4A quarterfinals. Fast forward to this season and the Savages return just about everyone from that stout defensive unit. The offense has some questions they need to find answers to before the season begins but the defense showed last year that they can carry the load if they need to. The turnaround at Broken Bow might have surprised many around the state last year. However, the Savages won’t be surprising anyone this fall.
Catoosa, similar to Broken Bow, had a rough stretch there for a few years where they had several losing seasons in a row. The Indians bounced back last season with not only a winning record but were competitive week in and week out. The expectations for the 2018 Catoosa Indians are as high as when they were routinely putting out 10-win seasons. On both sides of the ball, Catoosa returns nearly every starter off of last year’s team. Catoosa has had to take a back seat to Oologah and Wagoner in the district while they were making countless trips to the state championship game. However, if you ask anyone close to the football team, you’ll probably hear them say how this is the year Catoosa returns to being the contender we saw earlier in the decade.
Weatherford brings back nearly everyone this fall and that puts the Eagles as a very serious team to look out for in 2018. One of the players you definitely need to keep an eye on is Ethan Downs. He’ll only be a sophomore but he already has the attention of several Big 12 programs and is the first 2021 prospect in Oklahoma to have received a D1 offer. The Eagles are going to end up getting creative with how they try to use Downs to get the biggest impact possible. With Heritage Hall dropping down to 3A, the road to a district championship gets a lot easier for the Eagles. Winning the district should be a very attainable goal and that would put Weatherford at home for the first two playoff games. And with 4A appearing to be wide open, having home field could make the difference between winning or moving on to winter sports.
First off, it’s hard to consider a proud program like Tuttle a darkhorse in any conversation. All the Tigers do is put together winning season after winning season. However, it’s been a while since Tuttle was considered a true championship contender. But with Class 4A appearing to be extremely wide open, maybe this is the year that the Tigers get the job done in the playoffs and make a real run at the gold ball. With quarterback Carson Berryhill returning on an offense that will be somewhat new, that experience under center will pay off. Tuttle will play a very tough non-district schedule but by the end of September, we’re going to have a good idea of what these Tigers can do this fall.
Storylines To Follow
Completely Wide Open Class
Over the last four years, Class 4A was basically a two-team class. With the exception of last year, Oologah and Wagoner absolutely dominated 4A football. They met in the title game in each year from 2014-2016. Both teams were bounced out in the quarterfinals a year ago and both teams have plenty of question marks entering the 2018 season. Not to mention the fact that Heritage Hall is now going to be terrorizing teams in Class 3A. That opens the door for new teams to make the case to be the new big dog in 4A football. And let’s get this out of the way now. Being completely honest and 100% transparent, we have NO IDEA what to expect from 4A football. Class 4A was without a doubt the most difficult class to breakdown and rank because of parity that we could end up seeing play out this fall.
New (Familiar) Powers Rising
So with Heritage Hall dropping down to 3A, and Oologah and Wagoner each finding a new identity in 2018, that means we’re going to have some new faces atop the Class 4A landscape. However, while 4A is without a doubt the most wide open class, you can probably expect some familiar names making their way to the top of the list. Poteau is the preseason number one team but they’ve had plenty of success in this decade. Historical programs like Tuttle and Weatherford are each hoping that 2018 is a return to glory type year for them. And Broken Bow took the first step back to truly becoming a contender last season. The Savages are now a team to definitely be concerned with as a difference maker in 4A football.
No Streaking This Year
One of the main storylines in 4A football the last several years has been all the streaking. Not that kind of streaking. We’re talking winning streaks and records being broken. Two years ago, Heritage Hall had a 38-game winning streak snapped by Cascia Hall in the playoffs. Last year, it was Blanchard snapping Wagoner’s state record 48-game winning streak in the playoffs. Going into this season, the longest winning streak in 4A football is McLoud with two straight wins. Because Heritage Hall moved down to 3A, it eliminates your defending champ as a possibility and that’s a big reason why McLoud owns your longest active winning streak. However, this feeds into the growing theme that 4A football is going to be wide open this fall and when you finally think you have it figured out, you’re probably wrong.
Players To Watch
Carson Berryhill – Quarterback – Tuttle
The Tuttle Tigers are hopeful that 2018 will be a big year. With so many pieces back, the Tigers have a chance to bounce back from the 6-5 record a year ago. Leading the way will be quarterback Carson Berryhill. The Tiger QB didn’t put up huge numbers a season ago but he’s been one of the hardest working QB’s this offseason, making sure this fall doesn’t go to waste.
Devin Hembry – Running Back – Hilldale
Hilldale has to replace one of the more productive running backs in Oklahoma with the graduation of Mikey Winston. Devin Hembry will more than make up for the loss this fall and could end up being a breakout star. Winston missed a few games in 2017 and Hembry was a major boost to the Hornet offense. Don’t be surprised if Hembry is a breakout star this fall.
Easton Francis – Athlete – Poteau
There is no other way to describe Poteau’s Easton Francis other than athlete. Francis has a massive impact on offense and was even a standout at punter for the Pirates. Francis is a big reason why the Pirates are considered a dangerous team as they head into the 2018 football season. No matter where Francis is lined up, you have to be concerned with where the dynamic junior is.
Jamie Nance – Wide Receiver – Blanchard
You can make the argument that nobody had a busier spring and summer than Blanchard speedster Jamie Nance. The Nebraska commit went from a relatively unknown prospect to a household name in a matter of weeks this spring. He also had a fantastic junior season and will look to pick right up where he left off. Whether it’s offense or defense, Nance just made plays.
Schyler Adair – Running Back – Wagoner
Wagoner has to replace one of the best players in Oklahoma over the last four years in wide receiver Nikia Jones. One of the players that will be asked to step up and fill that void is running back Schyler Adair. The Wagoner running back had a good season last year and if Wagoner wants to avoid taking a step back this fall, Adair will need to become more of the guy for the Bulldogs.
Mark Your Calendars
September 19 – Wagoner AT Catoosa
Because Catoosa returns a wealth of talent on both sides of the ball, expectations have to be high for the Indians. The first step to truly contending for a state title is to capture the district. And in week four, they get a Wagoner team that is hungry to return to the state title game. It’s only the first week of district play, but don’t be surprised if the district champ comes out of this match-up.
October 12 – Wagoner AT Oologah
Class 4A is absolutely loaded and wide open this season. However, these two rivals have built an unbelievable rivalry over the last few seasons. When Wagoner won three straight state championships, they did it at the expense of district rival Oologah. Wagoner is looking for a new start this year and Oologah is as well. Head coach Brandon Craig left Oologah for Siloam Springs.
October 18 – Broken Bow AT Poteau
As it stands right now, Poteau is the preseason pick to win 4A and Broken Bow is one of the top contenders in the class. That makes their Fall Break meeting on October 18th a potential district championship affair and a potential state championship preview. Both teams in southeastern Oklahoma have strong teams returning and plenty of fireworks can be expected when they face off.
October 18 – Tuttle AT Blanchard
Another potential district championship could end up being the Fall Break game between Blanchard and Tuttle. Both teams are ranked high and their expectations going into the season match up with those high rankings. With Ada out of the district, Blanchard and Tuttle are the frontrunners to bring home the district title. The winner here will be in the driver’s seat for the district corwn.
November 2 – Hilldale AT Poteau
It’s the final week of the regular season and playoff seeding very well could be decided before this game even kicks off. However, chances are, it won’t be and this game will be deciding a few things. Not to mention the other storylines that go into this. Greg Werner is in his first year with Hilldale after coaching Van Buren, AR the previous three seasons. His coaching stop before that? Poteau.
Prediction For Title Game
Broken Bow VS Poteau
At this point, you get the picture. Class 4A is completely wide open, we can make the argument that just about any team in the preseason top ten will win the title. So now we make a prediction. And just like the preseason rankings, this championship prediction was without a doubt the most difficult one to figure out and has the least amount of confidence behind it. Again, we’re being 100% transparent. But for now, we’ll take Broken Bow and Poteau in a rematch of a Fall Break district meeting in October. Poteau has perhaps the most explosive offense in 4A and a stout defense. Broken Bow has perhaps the best defense in the state and by November, they’ll have figured out their offensive questions.
Be sure and listen to the OKPreps 4A Preview Podcast to find out who we think will be taking home the gold ball in November.
August 2nd: Preseason Rankings
August 3rd: Preseason All State Team
August 4th: Class 6A-D1 Preview
August 5th: Class 6A D1 Preview Podcast
August 6th: Class 6A D2 Preview
August 7th: Class 6A-D2 Preview Podcast
August 8th: Class 5A Preview
August 9th: Class 5A Preview Podcast
Today: Class 4A Preview
August 11th: Class 4A Preview Podcast
August 12th: Class 3A Preview
August 13th: Class 3A Preview Podcast
August 14th: Class 2A Preview
August 15th: Class 2A Preview Podcast
August 16th: Class A Preview
August 17th: Class A Preview Podcast
August 18th: Top Out Of State Games