By Nick Snow
CUSHING, Okla. —
It’s been just under a year since the Cushing High School football team was bounced out of the playoffs in the first round by Class 4A state runner-up Clinton. Yet the bitter taste in the Tigers’ mouth still remains.
“We definitely still have that bad taste in our mouths from last year,” Cushing junior running back Gage Stallworth said. “A lot of the guys on this year’s team were there and they remember how it felt to go (to Clinton) and get beat like that. I think it’s on all our minds still.”
Friday, Cushing (8-2) will try to rid itself from those painful memories and that bad taste when it hosts 10th-ranked Blanchard in the Tigers second playoff appearance since 2005.
“The team is really excited,” Stallworth said. “We’ve been practicing hard all week in prepartion for this game. I feel like we’re peaking at the right time and being at home with our crowd should help.”
Coach Barrett Shupe said the team feels good about Friday.
“We’ve had a good week of practice,” Shupe said. “We’re still having fun and are excited.”
No doubt the Tigers are hungry for their first playoff win in the Shupe era, but slowing down Blanchard’s high-powered offense will be a little easier said than done.
“Blanchard is a very good team,” Stallworth said. “They’re very well-coached and they don’t make a lot of mistakes. We have to go out there and play sound on both offense and defense because we know they’re going to be tough.”
Shupe said Blanchard is good in every phase of the game.
“The defense plays hard and is sound,” Shupe said. “The special teams makes plays. Their offense is the most balanced that we’ve faced.”
Equally as tough will be keeping Cushing’s emotions in check. This will be the first playoff game at Cushing since 2005 and Stallworth admitted that some of the younger guys are a little nervous heading into Friday’s matchup.
“I’m sure some of the guys are nervous,” Stallworth said. “I’m not really that nervous because I don’t really get nervous before games any more. You just have to take it like every other game this season. I’ll probably sit around the locker room and listen to music on my headphones just like I’ve done all season.”
Stallworth’s cool, calm demeanor could be a huge benefit for the Tigers. The junior will once again be called upon as the workhorse for Cushing’s offense, but it’s the offensive line that will likely make the difference.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure we win,” Stallworth said. “As long as our line continues to block as well as they have been all season, we should have no trouble running the ball. We know Blanchard is going to stack the box. I just have to find the holes.”
Shupe said they have to play well in all three phases of the game.
“We have to take care of the ball,” Shupe said. “We cannot allow a big play on special teams. Defensively, we got to tackle well.”
No matter what happens Friday, it’s been another remarkable season for the Tigers, who finished second in their district to Seminole. A win over perennial top 10 Blanchard would be the cherry on top of an already sweet season.
“We’re definitely hungry,” Stallworth said. “It’s been kind of crazy around school this week. Everybody is excited and we’re definitely ready to give it our all and try to beat them.”