The Lions will be looking to win their season opener for the second straight year when they meet the Bulldogs on Friday.
CHANDLER – The Chandler Lions will travel to Okmulgee to take on the Bulldogs in their season opener on Friday, meeting one of the more unlikely playoff teams from last year.
The Bulldogs finished with just three wins, but they were the right three wins, as Okmulgee went 3-3 in District 3A-5. That record was good enough to sneak into the district’s fourth and final playoff spot.
The was Okmulgee’s first trip to the playoffs since 2009, as a program that produced quality teams throughout the 1980s and 90s continues to try to climb back to respectability under third-year coach Kevin Gordon.
“Okmulgee is a good football team,” Chandler head coach Zack Smith said. “They’ll play hard and fast. Coach Gordon has done a great job building his team over the last year. What stands out the most about them is their great effort. They play whistle to whistle.”
Offensively, the Bulldogs return starting quarterback Brad Bell as well as running back D.J. Wallace. Okmulgee also returns all five starters on the offensive line, including 6-0, 285-pound senior Cameron Johnson and senior Shomani West, both of whom will start on defense as well.
“They have some big athletic kids and I think they’ll be a great test for our offensive and defensive lines,” Smith said.
The Bulldogs return six starters to their 4-3 defense that struggled for most of last season. Okmulgee’s D allowed 34.3 points per game in the team’s eight losses.
For the Lions, last week’s scrimmage against Oklahoma Christian School was a big improvement over the opener at McLoud.
“We made great improvements from the week one scrimmage to week two,” Smith said. “We ran to the football on defense much better than the week before. Our offensive line came together a little more and our run game improved. A couple of sophomores had great performances over the last two weeks and have grown up a lot in the last year.”
The Lions will be trying to avoid what have typically been slow starts to their seasons. Last year Chandler defeated Stroud 35-7 in week one, breaking a four-season streak of starting 0-2. The last time the Lions started a season 2-0 was the state runner-up year of 2008.
The Bulldogs have only won one opener in the last four seasons and haven’t been 2-0 since the 2009 season in which they finished 6-5. In three of the last four seasons Okmulgee has begun a season with a losing streak of at least six games.