Sports extra: Panther football set to begin
By Justin Scrimshire
ONL Sports Reporter
If you have found yourself near the confines of the Pecan Bowl in the late hours of the afternoon over the past few days, then you have probably heard the familiar sound of a coach’s whistle piercing the summer air.
In the midst of confusion and uncertainty, the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) has given the green light for fall sports to be played as scheduled. An honest conversation will reveal that no one is sure how this season will unfold. The biggest opponent of the year isn’t a school, but an invisible pandemic that continues to undermine 2020.
The timing couldn’t be worse for an Okemah Panther squad that looks to make a legitimate run deep into the post-season. When asked what the Panthers greatest strength for the upcoming season was, Coach Turner summed it up with one word, “Experience”.
The entire offensive line from last year remains intact, including All-Vype Class-A offensive lineman J.J. Magness. Junior quarterback Kurtis Wilson will line up under center a second year in a row, looking to improve on a stellar sophomore season. Wilson will have a vast arsenal of weapons at his disposal with the likes of Mikey Cruz, Kaiden Bear, Byron Shepard, Makhan Harjo, and newcomer Ethan Hodgens.
Being a smaller school, most of the kids will see two-way action this season, such as senior Korbyn Vansant, who will line up as a guard on offense and remain on the field after change of possession at defensive end, where he will look to be a consistent and reliable disruptor against the opponents offense.
In years past, that numbers game has come at a disadvantage to the Panthers, as they would face significantly larger 2-A teams in the playoffs. Not so this season. Earlier this year the OSSAA approved a realignment of districts that moved Okemah football into Class-A. This shift has already worked in Okemah’s favor as Vype has the Panthers ranked 5th overall in their Class-A preseason poll and ranked 1st in Class-A District 7.
The 2020 season gets off to a rather quick start for Coach Turner and his staff of assistant Coaches Harjo, Yazel and Bencoma. With just two weeks of practice under their belt, Okemah will travel to Victory Christian on Thursday, August 20th for a three-way scrimmage including the Panthers, Victory Christian (Class 2-A) and Cleveland (Class 4-A). The scrimmage will begin at 6 p.m.
The season opener will take place the following week, Friday, August 28th, at Henryetta. In spite of the quick start, Coach Turner feels confident his squad will be ready for game day. Turner stated that all the coaches are at the same disadvantage with lack of spring practice and all of the restrictions due to the Covid-19 outbreak. If anything, Coach Turner feels strongly that the Panthers have the upper hand thanks to their depth and experience.
Dates of significance for the upcoming season include the season opener at Henryetta on Friday, August 28th. The Panthers will have two away games before their first home game on Friday, September 11th against Pawnee. Vype has Okemah ranked 5th and Pawnee ranked 6th respectively in their preseason poll for Class-A overall.
The Panthers will then get their bye week before playing Liberty on Friday, September 25th for Homecoming night. On Friday, October 9th, Okemah will face off against Wewoka at home in an important district contest. Vype has Okemah ranked 1st and Wewoka ranked 3rd in their District 7 pre-season poll.
Senior night will take place on Friday, October 30th against Mounds and the regular season will come to an end on Friday, November 6th at Stroud.
There are a lot of unknowns for the upcoming season with the new district opponents and the uncertainty of Covid-19. With that in mind, there is also a lot to look forward to in the upcoming weeks and the 2020 Okemah Panthers are in a prime position to capitalize in a very big way.