A fusion of senior experience and youthful energy guided the Pawhuska High School Huskies to a formidable showing last week in their official debut under head football coach Bob Craig.
Flashing big-play potential, the Huskies matched the twin-touchdown production of the visiting Cleveland Tigers during Friday evening’s initial inter-squad scrimmage of the prep gridiron season.
“I thought we showed pretty good execution against a competitive Class 4A program that was strong in last year’s playoffs,” said Craig, the 35-year coaching veteran who took over PHS’s 2A program last May.
Craig stressed that a variety of factors, including injuries on the line, kept the Huskies from executing their full complement of offensive plays. He said each 12-play series had been scripted in advance and that no game-time consideration was given to situations, matchups, etc.
“We kept things pretty basic and just tried to keep improving and building on what we were able to do,” said Craig, who added that the pre-season workout regimen remains a little behind schedule — partly because of disruptions caused by heavy rains two weeks ago and also due to late filling of some of the assistant coach positions.
The coaching situation was recently enhanced with the hiring of two new Huskie assistants — Bill Balcom and David Hindman — who bring decades of experience to the local program. They join a staff that also includes returning assistant coaches Mark Frye, Brian Edwards, Patrick McCarty and Monty Unruh, as well as special assistants Randall Esch and James Manns.
Pawhuska’s grid program also is enhanced by the football knowledge of new PHS principal Joe Sindelar, who helped guide teams at Woodland and Morrisson to more than a half dozen state championship appearances.
Against Cleveland, the Huskies scored on a dazzling breakaway run by senior quarterback Zalin Edwards and an Edwards-to-Bryce Wilson touchdown pass. Before an appreciative home crown at Ormand Beach Memorial Stadium, Pawhuska’s offense managed to move the football both on the ground and through the air.
Cleveland burned PHS for a pair of TD passes, but the aggressive Huskies defense also forced three Tiger turnovers. Among the half dozen catches made by senior receiver/linebacker Wilson was a spectacular high-rise interception he pulled down on Cleveland’s initial offensive series.
Craig said “turnover ratio” is considered an important part of the team’s defensive scheme.
“It is a telling stat in most games,” said the coach. “We stress the point that they can’t score on us if they don’t have the ball.”
Other PHS seniors also gave outstanding efforts. Two-way starter Taylor Priest broke off several good gains at running back and versatile Connor McNeil was active in defensive pursuit, even stripping loose a fumble to stop one Cleveland drive.
Undersized defensive lineman Sean Valencia shut down the Tigers on several threatening plays. Craig said Valencia is better suited for the Huskie secondary. But, due to a rash of injuries, the hard-hitting senior has been pressed into service up front.
“We used him at all three of our defensive line positions and he caused them trouble from each of them,” the coach said.
PHS sophomore Gage Dagenais and McNeil recovered one Cleveland fumble apiece. Pawhuskans also lost the handle on the ball twice in the game and both teams dropped a couple of near interceptions. One player who had no drops was Wilson, the sure-handed Huskie with a nose for the football.
“We’re expecting Bryce (6-1, 190 pounds) and Marshall Tolson (a 6-4, 220-pound junior) to give us some good passing opportunities because of their size and height,” said Craig.
The coach said that while the he thought the effort-level of the Huskies was high throughout the scrimmage , he thought they played particularly hard at the end of each series.
“It was obvious that we still need some practice, but I think we’re getting there,” Craig said.
Craig said the initial scrimmage provided several “teachable moments” and showed some of the younger Pawhuska players that they need to be prepared because they might be called to the field at any moment. He said the early-season injury report has been fairly devastating to Huskie lines.
Early in the scrimmage, the team lost the only Huskie lineman forecast as a two-way starter when junior stalwart Tyler Reece (6-1, 230) sustained a shoulder injury. The extent of that injury remains uncertain, Craig said.
“By the end, we were down to only six lineman and had six regular defensive linemen out on offense,” said the coach.
Turnover ratio also provided a highlight in the Cleveland-Pawhuska JV scrimmage, with freshman defensive back Levi Youngwolfe scooping up a fumble and scoring and sophomore lineman Jacob Lessert and freshman linebacker John Bighorse among the other Huskie players who forced or recovered fumbles.
The opening scrimmage also served to preview several renovation projects that currently are underway at PHS’s 80-year-old Ormond Beach Memorial Stadium. Projects include installation of new stadium seating as well as improvements to locker room, concession stand and restroom facilities.
“Our Quarterback Club has had so many people out helping get the stadium ready,” Craig said. “And, the field is in great shape.
“All of that helps in building up the program and makes us want, even more, to play well and give back to the community for all its support,” the coach added.
Another scrimmage is slated this Friday at Pawnee (with a 6 p.m. junior-varsity start) as the Huskies continue preparations for the launch of the 2013 campaign the next Friday — Sept. 6 — with a home contest versus the Tonkawa Buccaneers.
A year ago, the Buccaneers started their campaign with a 23-4 home triumph over the Huskies and proceeded to finish 5-5 in the regular season. Tonkawa, like Pawhuska, reached the Class 2A state playoffs. The Bucs were beaten in the first round by the Oklahoma Christian Saints, who went on to take the Class 2A title.