Cushing battling for finals spot; Morrison, Pawnee set for quarterfinals contests

Photos by Jason Elmquist/Stillwater News Press The Pawnee defense celebrates a fumble recovery by Harlan Britt during Friday’s playoff game against Colcord. Pawnee won 58-15.

Rusty Morgan is hoping his 2020 Cushing High football team is on the path of the 2014 squad.

Of course, he’s hoping for a different end result as the underdog Tigers fell to Heritage Hall, 37-14.

Morgan, the current Cushing coach, was a defensive coach on the 2014 squad under coach Barrett Shupe. Cushing returned to the Class 3A semifinal in 2016, but lost a heartbreaker, 7-6, to Plainview.

“I was fortunate to be coaching in Cushing in 2014 when we made that run,” Morgan said. “There are a lot of similarities right now.”

This year’s Tigers squad has reached the same level as the 2016 team, but did it in Class 4A after they moved up for the 2018 season – Morgan’s first year as head coach. Like the 2014 team, this year’s team entered the playoffs as the No. 4 seed from its district.

Another coincidence is Cushing beat Bethany on the road in the first round of the playoffs. Since crushing Bethany three weeks ago, Cushing (9-3) knocked off undefeated Weatherford and one-loss Hilldale – both on the road – to earn a spot in the 4A semifinals.

Cushing will now travel to top-ranked and undefeated Wagoner, which fell in the semifinals last year, after beating No. 2 Weatherford and No. 6 Hilldale. The game will begin at 7 p.m. Friday at Wagoner.

“It’s awesome to be playing this late in the year,” Morgan said. “Guys are having fun and they’re confident in what they’re doing. It was a little chilly the last two days, but the guys are focused and we had a great week.

“They do understand they’re playing a very good team and they’re ranked No. 1 for a reason. But, their confidence is through the roof right now. We’ll go on the road and try to punch our ticket.”

The Tigers’ success in the playoffs has been in large part to great leadership and a talented group of sophomores, according to Morgan.

“Our senior class is the big reason,” Morgan said. “The first week of the playoffs, we had those seniors stand up and the younger guys kind of looked around and realized everybody is going to be in that position soon. We’ve got a senior group that has been excellent teammates and excellent leaders on and off the field. Our sophomore class speaks for itself with the talent and all of that, but they have excellent leadership that’s showing them the way. I think everybody is pulling together to keep them playing as long as we can.”

The winner plays Blanchard or Clinton in the 4A championship at 1 p.m. Dec. 12 at Wantland Stadium in Edmond. Cushing fell to Blanchard, 19-14, on Oct. 23, which was its last loss of the season.

Black Bears seeking second-straight semifinal appearance

Pawnee has breezed through its first two playoff games – after earning a first-round bye – but will face a much-tougher task this Friday night. Pawnee won both games by an average of 40.5 points, and no less than 38 points in either game.

Friday will mark the first time Pawnee has been on the road this postseason. The No. 4 Black Bears (9-1) will travel to No. 5 Thomas-Fay-Custer (10-1) to square off in the Class A quarterfinals.

“We just go out and do what we do each and every week, and try to make ourselves better,” Pawnee coach Russell Cook said. “Thomas is a good team, they have a good coach and they’re big and athletic. We’ve mainly been focusing on us, and making sure we get done what we need to get done.”

Thomas won its two games 49-22 and 44-8, respectively. The Terriers last advanced to the semifinals in 2017 after beating Morrison, Pawnee’s rival, by one point in the quarterfinals.

Cook is happy to be back with his Black Bears this week after being in quarantine the past two weeks.

“Probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was sit out in the truck and watch practice and watch the games,” Cook said.

Wildcats aiming to continue magical run

Last week, Morrison coach Cory Bales called his team’s win at Wewoka one of the top five in his storied career.

His Wildcats earned a hard-fought victory in which they ran out the final 7 minutes and 30 seconds of the clock to win 32-24. It secured the Wildcats’ spot in their first Class A quarterfinals in three years.

“It’s been very spirited week of practice,” Bales said. “Obviously, they put themselves in a position where there aren’t very many teams left. We’re excited to be one of the final eight. We had a really good week and we’re healthy, so we’ll go see what happens.”

Morrison (10-2) will now be competing for a berth into the state semifinals since 2016 when none of this year’s team was in high school. It will play defending state champ Ringling (9-0) on the road. It will begin at 7 p.m. Friday.

Bales said his team hopes to continue playing spoiler as the underdog this week.

“To be honest, it’s a little different,” Bales said. “It’s kind of worked out for us. Obviously, I don’t think too many people picked us to get out of Wewoka last week, so we’ll go with whatever we need to go with and be happy with that.”

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