By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Writer
Orion Ennis went off, nursing a knee injury three plays into last Thursday’s game against Tulsa Edison.
The Muskogee strong safety had seen it before — just another downer of a moment in a downer of a season to that point, be it injuries or the scoreboard.
He took a seat on the sideline and instead of watching a rerun, he witnessed a revival.
Buoyed by a dominating defense — Ty Beasley slid over into his spot defensively — Muskogee won 33-7, its first victory of 2012.
The revival brought upon a healing.
“Watching them play, I knew I needed to heal quickly,” he said.
There’s a newfound confidence this week, and it’s showing in practices that head coach Josh Blankenship insists haven’t been lacking in intensity.
But even he acknowledged a difference.
“It’s difficult to coach your kids hard when you haven’t won a game, and when I say hard I mean having high standards and getting after the when they don’t meet those high standards,” he said. “They’ve tasted success and shown what they’re capable of, so I’m raising it and will keep raising it. Mistakes aren’t tolerated but in addressing it you’re not as worried about destroying a kid’s confidence and making him want to quit because he’s in the middle of a miserable losing season.”
Hope springs eternal.
“The practice tempo always been up but I think it’s up more than it has. We got a taste of a win and we’re wanting more,” said quarterback Trevor Jiles.
“I honestly think we have a whole new defense with a new and improved attitude,” defensive lineman Joel Lewis added. “When we started making plays last week, it rubbed off on the offense and we all kind of fed off each other. It’s certainly carried over.”
Blankenship called this the best week of practice going into tonight’s homecoming encounter with Sapulpa (4-2, 2-1), which is among four teams tied for second in District 6A-2. With the proverbial monkey off its back with a W, the Roughers (1-4, 1-2) know this is a win that would put them in the middle of the playoff hunt.
Jenks is atop the district after beating Broken Arrow last week. Westmoore suffered its first loss in league play last week to Putnam City, a team that routed Muskogee but had its hands full against the team the Roughers handily beat last week.
It may have bought back some credibility for Blankenship after he theorized his team matched up well with Westmoore, only to watch the Jaguars put 51 on the board in the first half two weeks ago.
“People thought I was crazy for thinking it but Putnam City kind of showed what I was talking about, that if you show up and play like you’re capable of, you can match up well,” he said.
“Not that I think we’re necessarily better than Westmoore, but they’re not in a category like a Jenks or Broken Arrow where you have to go out and have a miraculous kind of night to win. But they’re still probably better than the rest of us which puts us, Sapulpa, Bixby and Putnam City in a battle for the other playoff spot.”
In Sapulpa, it’s a version of a team that “is similar to us,” Blankenship said, especially in the sense of having most everybody among the starting 11s going both ways.
“Which makes our management of our rotation in those same situations work for us,” he said. “We need to stay fresh and wear them down.”
Blankenship thinks man for man with the exception of Chieftains tight end Sam Johnson (6-foot-4, 235), that his line is the more dominant. Johnson, also a defensive end, has been a big part of the Sapulpa offense, scoring five TDs. He also hauled in a catch on a fake punt last week from Sam Gottsch that allowed the Chieftains to run out the clock in a 14-10 win over Bixby.
Gottsch, the son of Sapulpa head coach Mike Gottsch, “is absolutely their best athlete,” Blankenship said. He was a receiver last year.
But the coach’s biggest concern is Sapulpa’s overall scheme.
“When you’re an underdog you’ll do gadget and gimmicky stuff to keep them going but now that they’re more established as a capable team that kind of thing has become so much of their personality that it’s still there and you have to be ready for everything,” he said. “They’ll be aggressive and attack no matter what the situation is and they’ll come up with a new way of doing it.”
The Roughers will don another set of throwback jerseys this week. Two weeks ago at the last home game, it was Manual Training School purple. This week, its the other pre-integration version of itself — the Central High style tops.
Sapulpa at Muskogee
Radio: KCXR 100.3 FM
Webcast: Muskogee Roughers.tv