By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
Cleveland coach Dale Anderson’s team is in uncharted territory. The Tigers are 7-0 and closing in on the first postseason trip in Anderson’s seven seasons at the helm.
A District 4A-3 title is also within their grasp but he’s well aware of what his team has to do to take that step — a win Thursday against the Class 4A state champion Wagoner Bulldogs at Wagoner’s Odom Field.
“Our kids are pretty loose,” Anderson said Tuesday. “No one expected us to be 7-0 except ourselves. We’re looking at this as an opportunity to see how good we are.”
Wagoner coach Dale Condict looks at it the same way for his squad, which comes in 6-1 and like the Tigers, 4-0 in league play.
“Being where we’ve been and what we expect, winning district is certainly part of it,” he said. “We didn’t get that done even though we won state last year, so even though it’s not the ultimate goal, It’s something we’re motivated to get done this time.”
The Tigers have reached where they are offensively with a balanced attack (1,528 rushing, 1,410 passing). Senior quarterback Chas Stallard is a dual threat. He’s thrown for 1,401 yards and rushed for 674, averaging 5.9 yards a carry. Behind him in the backfield, junior Dakota Hewitt has 581 yards on 86 carries (6.76 per attempt). Another junior, Derek Reeves, is the primary pass target with 32 catches for 650 yards.
Josh Ratliff has a team-leading 104 tackles on a defense that will have its hands full stopping the state’s leading rusher, Lawrence Evitt. Evitt has 1,633 yards so far, including a 408-yard effort in last week’s 44-27 win against Oologah. That broke the previous school record of 1,621 set by OSU freshman Kevin Peterson last season.
“They’re aggressive on defense in the way they use the secondary to stop the run,” Condict said. ”I’m sure they’ll utilize that to try and contain Lawrence and we’ll have to do some things to loosen that up. We want to be able to throw when we want to and not let them dictate that.”
Stallard and Reeves have five interceptions between them. Decarius Clark has 947 yards on 59-of-93 passing.
“Their defensive ends are pretty strong, but I don’t really think they’re the best defense we’ve seen,” Clark said. “Hilldale’s defense we saw in one of our scrimmages was probably the best.”
Wagoner averages 45 points per game to Cleveland’s 36. Both teams allow 13 points per contest.
Concerning his team’s defense, Condict was concerned about how his team’s containment on the edges in last week’s win against Oologah.
“We played a little undisciplined,” he said. “I hope we rise up this week. It’s certainly a game we need to be that way.”
Anderson hopes his team can find an edge against Wagoner’s superior athleticism.
“Evitt’s the type that even with a missed block can make you miss and take it 80 yards. Then on the other side they have the (Kerwin) Thomas kid on the back end that can track you down from 20 yards back,” the coach said.
“They’re just very athletic, they’re very familiar with big-game atmospheres and we’re going to get one of those Thursday. We’re going to give it our best shot."
Adds Clark: “This is always one of our goals and we didn’t get it done last year. It’s too valuable when you consider what kind of crowd we have and getting the first two games at home when you do win it.
“I don’t think we’re going to fail this time.”