By: Scott Emigh, Editor-in- Chief
The Charles Page High School varsity football team is headed to Little Rock, Arkansas for their season opener against the Pulaski Academy Bruins.
Both teams are 2015 State Finalists, but not much else is similar between the two teams.
While the Sandites were the sleeper team in last year's playoffs, the Bruins were the top dog from the very beginning of the season. Pulaski has won back-to-back State Titles.
The Sandites started last season hot, crushing Tulsa Hale 61-8 and breezing through Enid 33-7. Despite the dominating performances, they found themselves down 0-2 after forfeiting the games due to playing an ineligible transfer student. A third game, against Guthrie, was cancelled due to lightning with the Sandites leading 18-7 shortly before the half.
From there they took on a highly touted Bartlesville team and lost 24-7. The boys didn't officially get in the win column till week four when they trounced Claremore 27-7 on homecoming. They then beat Highway 97 rival Sapulpa 44-10 and Ponca City 44-27.
After picking up their fourth straight win 34-10 against Muskogee, they lost in a close 17-14 to the top-ranked Booker T Washington Hornets in a knock-down drag-out downpour. The game was a loss, but it showed that the Sandites could hold pace with anyone in the State. The next week they dominated the defending State Champions from Bixby in a 20-0 shutout.
The first round of the playoffs went more like the game against Hale than anything, and nearly every eligible player got to see action in the 49-14 quarterfinal win. The semifinals saw a rematch with BTW and this time it was Sand Springs who got the 30-23 edge and prevailed to their first State Finals game since they won it all in 1966. A rematch with Bixby saw a much different opponent. While the Spartans' energy had pilfered out earlier in the season, they reignited their flame in the playoffs and massacred Lawton 36-6 and Bartlesville 67-21. Sand Springs had some big plays that at times made them look like they could win it, but ultimately the defending Champs reclaimed their title 38-28.
Since Oklahoma split their top class into two sixteen-team divisions in 2014, the newly formed 6A-II has been in a power struggle with each school looking to establish itself as a regular contender. With the powerhouse programs of Jenks, Broken Arrow, Union, and Owasso removed from their schedules, the smaller 6A schools are still trying to find their place in the new hierarchy.
Pulaski Academy is a whole different beast from anything the Sandites encountered last year, and is most comparable to the Guthrie team that Sand Springs faced in 2014. The Bruins are on a 27-game winning streak and haven't lost since their season opener in 2014. Pulaski isn't in the top bracket of Arkansas schools. They play a weaker 5A division in a state that goes all the way to 7A. The small private school has an enrollment of 1380 from preschool through high school and is dwarfed by Sand Springs which enrolled 1700 high school students this year.
But what they lack in depth, they make up for in talent. The Bruins aren't just ranked top of their class, they come in at sixth in the whole state. MaxPreps, a computer-generated ranking site lists the Sandites at 701 in the nation against the Bruins' 326. Both the Tulsa World and the Oklahoman rank Sand Springs at fourth in 6A-II.
Both teams boast impressive stats. The Sandites are known for having the best defense in the State, but Pulaski is described as machine-like in their offense.
Both teams have impressive quarterbacks. Sand Springs senior Hunter Greathouse played his first season in the position last year and was 99 of 185 for 1767 yards and 18 touchdowns on a team that favored the run game. Meanwhile the Bruins are devastating from the air behind the arm of junior Layne Hatcher who finished last season with 4,667 and 55 touchdowns.
The Sandites took a big loss at running back in Southwestern College freshman Lane Lettich who led in almost every game for the last two years. Lettich was a powerhouse who would bulldoze through the lines and drag defenders four or five yards every time. Junior Payton Scott will take the starting position now, already well seasoned after seeing significant playing time since making varsity as a freshman. Scott finished with 900 yards and 9 touchdowns on 117 carries last season. The 5'6" 165 pound wrestler is like a mouse when it comes to finding holes in the defense, scurrying through any opening and exploding for first downs. Averaging eight yards per carry, he doesn't have an okay run. He either gets shut down immediately or goes the distance. Almost every game last season saw a 30-yard carry from Scott as the juggernaut will often break multiple tackles from defenders twice his size once he's allowed to build momentum.
Pulaski isn't hurting in the run department either in the elusive Jaren Watkins. Watkins and Scott are very similar physically and the senior finished last year with 2,067 yards and 24 touchdowns on 166 carries.
Both teams are reloading at wide-receiver. Both of their starting backs are capable of catching, but neither did much of it last year. The Sandites lost Trace Fleischman to Northeastern Oklahoma and are looking to all-purpose Kasey Bales and Josh Taber. The Bruins will look to junior Tra Johnson who only received 23 passes last year.
Senior defensive back Hayden Henry leads the Bruin defense and is the brother of San Diego Charger Hunter Henry. Henry led in tackles with 89 last season. Sand Springs lost a lot of talent, graduating seven of their top eleven tacklers. The Sandites will rebuild around senior linebacker Delvin Jordan who registered 87 tackles last season, including 15 for losses totaling 64 yards. He also recovered four fumbles and scored the first safety in years for the Sandites. Gage Fain, Nathan Simonton, Danny Ropp, and Kris Edwards will anchor the defensive line. DB Treyce Tolbert also brings some experience to the game with a pair of fumble recoveries and interceptions last season.
The offensive line is a particularly strong point for the Sandites. The O-line committed less than two fouls per game last season and despite losing a few good players, also returns a lot of talent. Lincoln Adams spent most of the summer traveling to football camps across the country and was named to the Vype-Tulsa All-Metro First Team. Ropp will play both sides of the ball and is joined on the line by Michael Carper, Cameron Lierly, Kobe Chen, Michael Karper, Myron Krotzer, and Caleb Mallory.
Dustin Kinard enters his tenth year as the Sandites' head coach and has successfully taken the program from ten-straight years without a winning record to four-straight years of playoff berths and the program's first playoff wins since 1997. With a 48-49 record since assuming the position, Kinard looks to gain a winning record this season.
Kickoff is at 7:00 p.m. and the Sandites will begin their effort to achieve the dream that they so nearly reached in 2015. This is the fiftieth season since the Sandites won the Class 2A State Championship over Ada in 1966, and the perfect time to remind everybody that they wish they were a Sandite.