– BY MICHAEL KNIGHT
OKPreps will have wall to wall coverage of the 2018 playoffs. We kick things off with our playoff preview series. Breaking down the bracket, checking out the contenders and giving you some players to watch. You’ll also hear from coaches with our OKPreps Scene Setter Podcasts.
Heritage Hall Chargers
We are guaranteed to see a new state champion in Class 4A and we’re also going to see a completely new championship game match-up. Ada and Heritage Hall squared off for the 4A title a year ago, with the Chargers winning it all. Heritage Hall moved back down to Class 3A and enter the playoffs there as the favorite to win it all. Meanwhile, Ada was bumped up to Class 5A and they made the playoffs but have to go on the road to take on district champion Collinsville. Class 4A has been wide open all season and you can make a legitimate case for a lot of teams as serious championship contenders. With Ada and Heritage Hall moving away from 4A, it just makes the path to the gold ball a lot more unpredictable.
TEAM TO BEAT
If you’ve been following OKPreps all season long, you know why we’re going with Poteau here. They’ve been our top ranked team and predicted champion in Class 4A from the start of the season. They’ve given no reason to doubt them as they head into the playoffs. You can make the same argument for a team like Tuttle, that arguably has put together the most impressive wins of any Class 4A team. You can’t go wrong with either team. And unfortunately, if both teams win out, they won’t meet in the title game. It would be a semifinal match-up. However, we’re going with Poteau here as the team to beat with an explosive offense and a shutdown defense. The only question mark about Poteau is the health of star running back Easton Francis. The Pirates were able to win without him in big games but adding him to the lineup gives this team a completely different look on offense.
MARQUEE 1ST ROUND GAME
Blanchard (8-2) AT Cache (8-2)
In a lot of these marquee first round games, you see match-up’s that are quarterfinal, or even semifinal-quality games. That’s what we have here as Blanchard has to hit the road to take on Cache in the first round. Cache dropped a heartbreaker to Clinton in week ten, falling short of the district championship. Blanchard suffered losses to fellow ranked teams Bethany and Tuttle, that put them as a very dangerous three-seed going into the playoffs. Blanchard has an offense with weapons all over the field. Cache is a hard-nosed team that wants to grind out games. Blanchard has experience against teams like Cache from earlier this year.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Carson Berryhill – QB – Tuttle
What a year it has been for Tuttle and their senior quarterback Carson Berryhill. The senior signal caller had an okay junior campaign. But it was apparent this spring and summer that Berryhill was primed to take his game to another level this fall. he’s done just that. Leading the Tigers to a 10-0 record and becoming one of the more efficient passers in the state, regardless of class.
Daniel Queen – QB – Catoosa
Catoosa has a dangerous 1-2 punch in their backfield with quarterback Daniel Queen and running back Jose Ortiz. Take your pick on which player you try to slow down when these two are lined up together. Queen is going to be flirting with 2,000 rushing yards when the season comes to a close. He runs this Catoosa offense with precision and can absolutely torch opposing defenses.
Gunnar Thompson – DE – Poteau
Poteau has several players that you need to be on a look out for but we’re going to start up front on the defensive side of the ball with Gunnar Thompson. The Poteau senior is one of the best at getting to the quarterback and is the heart and soul of a Poteau defense that only gave up double digit points on three occasions this season. We should also add that Thompson has been a threat on offense as well.
Jamie Nance – WR – Blanchard
Perhaps the most explosive athlete in Class 4A football is Blanchard’s Jamie Nance. The list is very short to find opponents that are faster than the Nebraska wide receiver commit. Nance has had an impact in all three phases of the game for Blanchard. Whether he’s catching touchdowns, coming up with interceptions or taking a kick back, you have to know where Nance is at all times when you play Blanchard.
Sam Brandt – QB – Bethany
Along with Catoosa’s Daniel Queen, you can make the argument that Bethany quarterback Sam Brandt is the breakout star in Class 4A football this year. Brandt is a true dual-threat quarterback that has been torching teams on the ground and in the air. Brandt threw for 16 touchdowns and also added 15 touchdowns on the ground. Not to mention he also recorded 50 tackles on the defensive side of the ball.
Bethany-Weatherford Grudge Match
For the third straight year, Bethany and Weatherford find themselves as first round opponents heading into the playoffs. In 2016, Weatherford shut out Bethany 35-0 before losing to Wagoner in the quarterfinals. Last year, it was Bethany getting some revenge by knocking off the Eagles 35-21 before falling to Ada in the semifinals. Now we get the grudge match and the winner will have plenty of momentum going into the next round.
Surprise, surprise, Clinton is back. The perennial powerhouse is back in the playoffs after going 3-7 a year ago and missing the playoffs for the first time in 27 seasons. This year has been all about redemption for Clinton and they have answered every test. They went from 3-7 to 9-1 entering the playoffs this year. The only loss on the schedule was a 20-12 setback to 3A’s #1 Heritage Hall. That was a game they were leading 12-0 at halftime.
The Wagoner Bulldogs are into the playoffs for the 14th consecutive year. What’s more impressive than that is what they’ve been able to do once they get into the playoffs. In each of their last 13 appearances, Wagoner has won at least one playoff game. During that stretch, they also made it to the semifinals 10 out of the 13 trips. That’s not good news for Wagoner’s first round opponent Fort Gibson. Wagoner beat the Tigers 30-14 back in week three.