By Andrew Glover
STILLWATER, Okla. —
The 2008 season would be another year of transition for the Morrison Wildcats — but not in personnel. During the bi-annual district realignment, the Wildcats moved up to Class A from Class B — from 8-man football to 11-man.
“It was a fun year,” coach Cory Bales said. “We had to validate our place as a program.”
There were plenty of skeptics as to whether the Wildcats could compete as an 11-man team. At year’s end, Morrison would prove skeptics wrong and win its first Class A state championship and fourth straight.
“People would say ‘8-man is not real football,”’ then-senior offensive and defensive lineman Clint Sloan said. “They thought we couldn’t compete. We had 20 years of motivation and finally got our chance.”
Though the Wildcats were adding three players to each side of the ball, they didn’t change much of their system — in fact, they expanded it.
“We didn’t go from running Wing T in 8-man football to running the spread in 11-man,” then-senior starting quarterback Shawn Walls said. “We kept the same mentality. We just added a linemen and a receiver. The schemes didn’t change much. We were able to do more with the defense.”
Morrison whipped through its first three games — outscoring Pioneer-Pleasant Vale, Barnsdall and Liberty 138-21. In Week 4, the Wildcats faced their first test at Hominy. Sloan said the close games were the ones he remembered most.
“We had Tonkawa coming to Morrison,” Sloan said. “Those were fun games. We won that shoot-out in Hominy. It was a game a lot of people expected us to lose.”
After blowing out Drumright, Yale and Haskell, Morrison edged out Tonkawa at home — improving to 8-0. On Halloween night in Fairfax, the Wildcats, for the first time in three years, found themselves on the other end of the scoreboard — the losing end. Woodland snapped Morrison’s 47-game winning streak in a 27-0 victory.
“It was a night that nothing went right for us,” Sloan said. “Those nights just happen.”
For the Morrison players, that loss was hard to take.
“I know I didn’t handle it well,” Walls said. “Our community was shocked. A few days later, we watched film and got back to work.”
The Wildcats didn’t allow the loss to derail the season. The next week, Morrison shut out Pawnee, to finish second in district.
Even entering the playoffs at 9-1, the Wildcats still had their skeptics. But like the previous seasons, Morrison had no trouble advancing to the second round as it downed Afton 51-22. Walls scored three touchdowns. The Wildcats held a 37-8 halftime lead.
In the second round, Morrison took on Stroud. Several people thought this would be the end of the line for Morrison. The Wildcats proved otherwise. Walls rushed for more than 250 yards and scored five touchdowns in a 41-7 victory.
“We went into Stroud and made a statement,” Walls said. “We beat them badly and it was a great game for us.”
Morrison had no problems in the quarterfinals, easily ousting Christian Heritage 48-10. Cale James rushed for three touchdowns and caught a touchdown pass from Walls. The Wildcats only allowed 179 yards. The semifinals weren’t much of an issue either as Morrison rolled to a 26-6 victory over Hennessey. Morrison trailed after allowing a first-quarter touchdown but shut down the Eagles after that. The Eagles tried to use trickery with a double reverse in the second quarter but it failed miserably after Morrison’s Clint Sloan recovered the fumble at the Hennessey 20. Walls scored on a 1-yard run and an extra point by Joey Quinata gave the Wildcats a 7-6 lead. The special teams increased the lead as Brian Bilyeu recovered a blocked punt by Quinata in the end zone. Touchdown runs by James and Walls put the game out of reach.
The 2008 Class A state championship game saw a rare occurrence — two defending champions opposing each other. Okeene entered as the two-time defending champion and Morrison with three straight Class B state championships.
The first half belonged to Okeene as Morrison trailed 9-6 at halftime. In the locker room, Bales and the Wildcats made adjustments to get on the scoreboard in the second half. Walls connected with Latelle Graves for a 35-yard touchdown for Morrison’s only score of the first half.
“We thought we were going to win,” Sloan said. “We came out and fought back.”
In the second half, one drive made all the difference for the Wildcats. After Morrison forced Okeene to punt, it received the ball at its own goalline. Walls would guide his team down the field with Levi Masters, James and Joey Quinata making significant plays. James ran in from 1 yard to put Morrison in front 13-9.
Okeene had one last chance but Grave swatted away a fourth-down pass with about 90 seconds left in the game. The Wildcats hushed their critics and held up a state championship trophy for the 14th time in school history and fourth under Bales.
“It was a huge win and probably the best state championship for the community,” Walls said. “We set the tone at the beginning of the season to win it and it was a big accomplishment. We took (moving up to 11-man) more as a competition.”