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Friday Night Lights: How cancellations are bringing a new twist to football playoffs

Tecumseh's Dylan Graham carries the ball during a game at Blanchard on Oct. 15. Tecumseh fell to Cache 49-41 last Friday, essentially ending this season. However, due to COVID issues within Cache's program, Tecumseh will face Blanchard in the playoffs on Friday. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
Tecumseh's Dylan Graham carries the ball during a game at Blanchard on Oct. 15. Tecumseh fell to Cache 49-41 last Friday, essentially ending this season. However, due to COVID issues within Cache's program, Tecumseh will face Blanchard in the playoffs on Friday. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

It was a strange weekend for Tommy Bare.

Kingston’s football coach didn’t know who his next opponent was. After going 10-0 in the regular season and earning a first-round bye last week, Bare and his staff drove to north central Oklahoma to watch Pauls Valley play at Perkins-Tryon, with the winner advancing to play Kingston.

Or so Bare thought.

“On the way up there, I got a call from Pauls Valley’s coach and he told me (Perkins-Tryon) was going to be forced to COVID out of the playoffs,” Bare said. “So we were going to play Pauls Valley the next week.”

Last Friday afternoon, Perkins-Tryon’s administration made the decision to cancel all extracurricular activities, including football, because of Payne County’s Red COVID-19 Alert level, which is the highest on the scale. Its superintendent informed football coach Bruce Williams before kickoff, who had to pass the news along to his team.

The locker room was shocked. Perkins-Tryon was the favorite against Pauls Valley, but no matter the result, the Demons wouldn’t be advancing because of their administration’s decision.

Perkins-Tryon dominated, winning 56-7 in what Williams said was his team’s best performance to date.

Instead of the sideline being jubilant, it was somber. There were tears. Players hugged family members while the coaching staff congratulated each other on a great season.

Bare and his staff started the trek back south but still weren’t sure of who to gameplan for the next week. Kingston had played Pauls Valley in district play, winning 42-20 in Week 8. Yet that same squad just lost by seven touchdowns.

Because of the new Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association rule for playoffs this season, if a winning team isn’t able to advance because of a COVID-related incident, the losing team can take its place. That meant Pauls Valley’s season could still be alive while Kingston was in limbo on who to start prepping for.

Normally weekends for high school coaching staff are filled with breaking down film of the opposing team and starting scouting reports for the next opponent. Yet for all three schools, they sat in limbo waiting to see what the matchup would actually be.

Late Sunday night, Perkins-Tryon’s administration reversed its decision. Although the classes would remain virtual, extracurricular activities could continue. Football was back on, and the Demons would head south to try and upend Kingston in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs.

“It was a wild ride, I’ll tell you that,” Bare said. “Sunday night at 8 o’clock is usually when you have your game plan set in stone and your scouting reports ready, but we didn’t know who we were playing until then.

“Having that unknown going into Sunday is not a situation you want to be in.”

Perkins-Tryon is one of the lucky teams who is able to advance in the playoffs after winning its first round game. Others haven’t had the same fortune.

Sequoyah Claremore had an opportunity to earn its first playoff win since 2016 this season after an amazing turnaround.

The Class 2A Eagles entered the season on a 21-game losing streak and fell in their opener against Class 3A Inola. Then Sequoyah Claremore rattled off seven consecutive victories and had a matchup with Adair in Week 10 with the winner claiming the district title.

Sequoyah Claremore lost, but it didn’t matter. The Eagles were back in the playoffs and had a legit chance to advance to the second round and maybe beyond.

They never got the opportunity.

Multiple players on the football team tested positive for COVID, forcing others to quarantine because of contact tracing and now allowing enough players to play Friday night. Sixth-seeded Morris advanced while Sequoyah Claremore’s season was over.

“We go from being excited to not even play in the playoff game,” coach Rob Gilbreath said. “This all happened in a matter of minutes. It’s crazy.”

Although Sequoyah Claremore didn’t have the opportunity to play, Tecumseh was able to get back into the playoffs even after losing in the first round.

Tecumseh fell to Cache 49-41 last Friday, essentially ending this season. Yet Cache’s football program was forced to stop practicing and preparing to play Blanchard this week because of positive cases and multiple quarantines, not allowing the Bulldogs to continue.

The game was canceled early Wednesday afternoon. An hour later, Tecumseh was back in the playoffs, prepping to play Blanchard in about 48 hours.

Tecumseh coach Ty Bullock has kept his team prepared in case the crazy scenario were to play out. He planned to practice in some capacity this week, and that started with a team meeting on Monday before practicing Tuesday. On Wednesday, Tecumseh’s players had checked in their pads right before the decision was made.

When Bullock received the call, he informed the team of the situation. They checked pads back out and prepared to play Blanchard for the second time this season.

“We have a big opportunity that was presented, so why not go take it?” Bullock said. “When you lose a game on Friday in the playoffs, it’s tough. It’s tough to rally the troops anyway and say let’s go practice for a game that, more than likely, we’re not going to play.

“When we got that call Wednesday, it was really easy. The kids were excited. It’s another opportunity.”

The COVID playoffs have presented opportunities that haven’t been seen before.

Teams without a win playing in the first round. Those who lose advancing in place of the team that beat them. More quirky situations are likely to arise.

Yet nothing is surprising this season.

“You’ve got to be prepared for anything because you don’t know what’s going to come out of this,” Bare said. “COVID goes up until Friday at 7 o’clock, so you could still get a change.”

Cameron Jourdan

Cameron Jourdan joined The Oklahoman in March 2019 to cover high school sports. He graduated from Oklahoma State University in May 2018. He had an internship with The Oklahoman and Stillwater News Press. During his time at OSU, Cameron served in a... Read more ›