February 8, 2023

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The Sports Fanatics

A different matchup for MHS, Ponca | Sports

For the locals, it might be called the first turn onto Retribution Road.

That comes this week when Ponca City comes to try and end another Muskogee football season, much the way the Wildcats did last year in bringing the Indian Bowl Era to a close. 

Muskogee will try and atone for that, and most will expect it to do so.

Because neither team will bear much resemblance to those teams, starting when the Wildcats are on offense.

A year ago, Blake Bristow laid the final gash on a Rougher defense that struggled from start to finish of a 2-8 campaign, running for 232 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-28 win. Bristow was a junior on that team, which ended a nine-game skid against MHS dating back to 1968.

But he’s not back. He transferred to Tonkawa where he’s having a similar impact this season. Meanwhile, two other Wildcat running backs, the last being Brody Wicker, saw their seasons end due to injury — Wicker breaking his collarbone in week 10.

The major weapon for Ponca offensively is quarterback Tay Moore, who will operate a lot out of an empty set and be the trigger in a run-pass option format.

On the other side, this isn’t close to the Rougher defense Ponca saw last year. There’s more help from the offensive side, guys like Jayden Bell in the secondary, Anthony Watson off the edge up front and Brandon Tolbert at linebacker.

And up until the final game of the regular season, no MHS opponent this season had hit the 35 that Ponca did in 2021. Stillwater exceeded it in a 38-21 win two weeks ago that settled first place in District 6AII-1. A week after losing 28-26 to the Roughers back in August, Ponca lost to Enid 33-20.

Muskogee’s Tim Moore, no relation to the opponent he’ll be chasing, is also a new face from a year ago. The sophomore’s speed has made him an asset defensively off the edge at one end spot and that will be important in defending against the other Moore.

“From what I’ve heard so far, we have got to contain the quarterback when he’s throwing and watch for the quarterback draw because the linebackers will be in coverage a lot,” said Moore, who emerged as a starter on the edge in midseason but has also rotated in at linebacker, where he’ll likely move next season. But that’s then, and this is now.

The contrast involving Muskogee’s offense and Ponca’s defense differs as well.

Offensively, the Roughers had some moments last year, often keeping them in games while the defense struggled. In last year’s game,the PCHS defense forced two turnovers to start the game that led to it putting Muskogee in a 14-0 hole, but they rallied to make a game of it.

This year hasn’t required much in the way of rallies, with the Roughers trailing only twice and both briefly at that in rolling to a 9-0 start.  Muskogee is averaging 44.5 points, 18 points more than last year’s.

Gabe Roland is one of the leaders of what Hill called a “scrappy” Ponca defense.  Roland was fourth at 182 pounds in the 6A state wrestling tournament and plays outside linebacker.  The Wildcats have given up no more than a touchdown just once in its last six games, that being a 42-13 loss to Choctaw, and beat Tahlequah in 35-7 in a first-round playoff last week. Muskogee beat Tahlequah by 48-13 in October. In its first four games, the Wildcats gave up a minimum of 33, that being against Enid.

But while the way the two teams get things done has changed, there’s still the awareness, especially here, of what happened in last year’s game, the finale in the 83-year-old structure now only used for junior high and youth-level football.

“Any little thing you can use to your advantage is worth applying,” said Muskogee head coach Travis Hill. “To the guys who were part of it, I mean, neither of us made the playoffs, but they dismissed us at a facility that’s had as much tradition as any other place around.”

So it’s one step toward retribution. Then if seeds hold, it would be Choctaw beating Sand Springs and staying on course to meet MHS at a neutral site in the semifinals. Choctaw beat Muskogee the last two seasons and in the playoffs the year before that.

And out there further, in what would be a first Friday afternoon in December meeting in Edmond, there would be a rematch of the 6AII-1 decider two weeks ago.

Based on what happened last week, where three of the four teams playing out of Muskogee’s district all won opening-round matches (Bartlesville, Sand Springs and Tulsa Washington), 6AII-1 would seem to have an edge strength-wise.

Game time for the final game this season at Rougher Village is 7 p.m. Friday.