We appreciate all of the pats on the back we got this week for our second perfect week of picking games in the last three, but we're not going to rest on success. No, we're back to give you a fourth playoff edition of our high school picks.
We're getting dangerously close to the end with just nine days of the high school football season remaining. There are four teams still alive in the area and two of them are playing for the right to go to the Class A title game.
District A-3 has been touted in this space all year as the best district in Class A and one of the best in the state regardless of class. Hollis, Apache and Thomas were all in our Top 10 every week this season and they all finished 11th or better in the final poll.
What's happening now? Hollis and Apache are playing each other tomorrow at Cache at 7 p.m. for entrance to the title game against the winner of Friday's Ringling-Talihina contest.
Apache traveled to Hollis in Week 9 only to be handed a 34-14 loss. In the four games since then, Apache has given up just 35 points while going on a turnover binge that is probably unsustainable. In three playoff games, Apache's defense has caused 14 turnovers. You read that correctly.
Apache has only lost to Thomas and Hollis this season and no doubt the Warriors want that Thomas game back. Apache lost by 11 in a game that started around 10 p.m. due to lightning. At least the Warriors get another shot at Hollis.
We're just not sure how successful that second attempt is going to be. Apache does have the distinction of holding Hollis to its smallest margin of victory this season, but the Warriors turned the ball over five times and that proved to be too much for them to overcome.
On the other side, Hollis has just been crushing each opponent that has stepped onto the field. The Tigers have won every game by 20 or more points and have given up just 21 points in three playoff games. Last week they traveled nearly 270 miles to Kiefer and blew the doors off the Trojans, 41-7.
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been one of the top duos in the NBA since 2008. They might have needed a little extra time to recapture their dynamic form this season following Westbrook's two offseason knee surgeries, but they've let it be known lately that they're back and better than ever. That was never more evident than on Sunday night when the Thunder (15-4) raced past Indiana, the team with the best record in the league. Durant and Westbrook combined for 62 points and 18 assists in the 118-94 dismantling of the Pacers, serving notice to the league that Oklahoma City fully expects to return to the NBA Finals. "They've been good for a lot of years," Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. "And then, we also have to still look at Russell as this is part of the process. ... He just finished up his first month of playing. So, he's feeling much more comfortable out there, and he's doing a great job." Westbrook has started to round into All-Star form this month, showing that he's fully recovered from the right knee injury that left him on the bench for the Thunder's second-round exit from the playoffs against Memphis last season.
Depending on who you encounter, the state college football teams playing against SEC foes in their respective bowls is either a dream come true or a nightmare. For the state's largest newspaper, it's a dream. The Oklahoman's pre-season college football section was all about relating the Big 12 to the SEC and figuring out how the SEC became the best conference and what the Big 12 can do to get there. So the staff probably, rightfully so, feels prophetic. For Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, it's a nightmare. On at least three occasions since May, Stoops has said various disparaging comments against the Southeastern Conference. His comments have implied that the bottom half of the SEC isn't good and that SEC defenses aren't all that they are cracked up to be. Now he gets to see at least how correct he is about that second comment since he faces SEC-whale Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on January 2. The two-time defending champion Crimson Tide is a Top-5 defense in points allowed, yards against and passing yards against. It's also ninth in rushing yards against.
Whether they be in college or high school, athletes wait with great anticipation for their senior seasons to inch closer and closer. Of course, it's their last go-round in competitive sports. A bittersweet finale. But it is a cherished campaign, where skills hit peak form in terms of physical and mental development, and often, it's the most productive time period of an athletic career. For Apache starting cornerback J.D. Wilcox, this season was almost over before it started. The senior wasn't sure if he would play high school football again after breaking his right fibula during Week 3 at Crossings Christian. "I hope I'd come back at the end of the season maybe," Wilcox said last week. "We took it one step at a time. First I was in a cast, then a walking boot… Then after that we just had to see how it went." Here's how it went: Wilcox sat out eight straight games, then Apache (11-2) won a close game at Fairview in the first round of the Class A playoffs, buying Wilcox enough time play some minutes at receiver and corner when the Warriors upset No. 8 Minco in the second round.
NORMAN (AP) Tricia Liston scored a season-high 23 points and No. 2 Duke gave coach Joanne P. McCallie her 500th career win, beating No. 17 Oklahoma 94-85 on Sunday. Alexis Jones added 20 points and six assists and Haley Peters scored 18 points for Duke, which is 10-0 for the third time in the last four seasons and the seventh time in the program's history. The Blue Devils, who are unbeaten in three games this season against ranked foes, face No. 1 Connecticut and No. 5 Kentucky before the end of the month. McCallie, who previously coached at Maine and Michigan State, became the 30th active NCAA Division I coach to reach the 500-win mark. The win was her 175th in seven seasons at Duke. Aaryn Ellenberg scored a season-high 28 points and Morgan Hook added a season-high 24 points for Oklahoma (6-3), which lost to a top-five team for the second time this season. The Sooners fell in overtime to No. 5 Louisville on Nov. 17. Liston made only one 3-pointer in Duke's previous two games wins against Kansas and No. 16 Purdue but had three before halftime and finished the game 5 of 10 from behind the arc, helping her team finish 9 of 21 (42.9 percent). The game was the first between Duke and Oklahoma since the 2002 national semifinals, which Oklahoma won before falling to Connecticut in the title game. Duke was the highest-ranked nonconference foe for the Sooners since No. 1 Connecticut on Feb. 15, 2010.
WASHINGTON (AP) Playing a half-hour from its Fairfax, Va. campus, George Mason figured to have a home-court advantage Sunday against Oklahoma in the BB&T Classic. But on a dreary, cold, snowy, day in Washington, the game was played in front of a sparse, listless crowd. The atmosphere did little, however, to dim the spirits of the Sooners. Led by Cameron Clark and propelled by an overwhelming rebounding advantage, Oklahoma rolled to an 81-66 victory in its first appearance in the event. Clark scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, helping Oklahoma to a 51-29 rebounding edge. Gonzaga transfer Ryan Spangler scored 13 points and had a game-high 13 rebounds. Sophomore guard Buddy Hield added 12 points and 10 boards. In winning its fourth straight game, Oklahoma (8-1) made only 1 of 12 attempts from beyond the arc and committed 19 turnovers. But the Sooners compensated with 58.3 percent marksmanship from the field and huge advantages on points in the paint, 50-20, and on fast-break points, 12-0. "One of our goals going into every game is to out-rebound the every team," Spangler said. "If you do, you get easy points."
Another year, another season that ended in the semifinals for the MacArthur Highlanders. The program made its 16th trip to the football semifinals last week, but saw its record fall to 6-10 in those games. Still, the 2013 Highlanders reached a game not many around the state thought they could get to. They were a team that started slow at 2-2 with what appeared to be a devastating district loss to Del City in Week 4, and several injuries to key players: senior linebackers Javi Laboy (torn ACL), Madison Phillips (missed some games), junior defensive lineman Jackson Taito (torn ACL) and corner back Lorenzo West (missed games). Despite all that, the proud Highlanders were able to turn their season around and win eight straight games before falling to McAlester. Their final record was 10-3. "I don't think people realize that we were 2-2 and a really fragile team. We're not used to losing games and losing two out of four was not the start we wanted," MacArthur head coach Brett Manning said. "Our defensive leader (Laboy) blew his ACL. Another defensive starter blew his ACL. We weren't playing well offensively and had some other struggles. We were in a pretty bad place after Del City. The coaches did a great job of keeping the players going and the players did a great job of responding to that.
STILLWATER (AP) No. 6 Oklahoma State has come a long, long way from its head-scratcher loss to West Virginia. The preseason Big 12 favorites are one win from their second league championship in the last three years. A victory would enable the Cowboys to share the honors with the winner of the game between No. 9 Baylor and No. 23 Texas. Oklahoma State (10-1, 7-1) would be set for a top BCS game as well. That win, however, will need to come at home Saturday in the annual Bedlam rivalry game against No. 18 Oklahoma (9-2, 6-2 Big 12). "It doesn't get any bigger than this, especially for me being from Oklahoma," said senior defensive tackle Calvin Barnett, preparing for the last home game of his college career. "I grew up in Tulsa watching this game. As a team, we know this means a lot. Every week for us has been a big game, and it's all led up to the biggest game. It feels really good knowing that all the work we've put into it so far is coming out and that the chance is actually here." Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, whose younger brother Cale has served as Oklahoma's running backs coach since 1999, seems to be downplaying the identity of the opponent while concentrating on properly preparing his players for a talented adversary.
NORMAN (AP) Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said nothing during his weekly press conference on Monday to indicate he wouldn't start Trevor Knight at quarterback Saturday at No. 6 Oklahoma State. Knight played well in relief in a 48-10 win over Iowa State and as the starter in a 41-31 win at Kansas State two weeks ago. Blake Bell, who has started eight games this season for No. 18 Oklahoma (9-2, 6-2 Big 12) left the Iowa State game after suffering a concussion and wasn't available against Kansas State. Stoops said he assumed Bell would be cleared for action if needed against Oklahoma State (10-1, 7-1). Stoops also said he felt good about how well the Sooners have moved the ball offensively with Knight at quarterback for most of the past two games. Knight entered the Iowa State game in the second quarter and the Sooners closed the game with 45 unanswered points, as he rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown and passed for 61 yards. Against Kansas State, he rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown and completed 14 of 20 passes for a career-high 171 yards and a touchdown. More important, he looked considerably sharper than he had in two uneven performances to open the season in wins over Louisiana-Monroe and West Virginia.
If an art or trick to successful two-point conversions exists, Tipton's own Jim Kerbo says he hasn't found it. Through more than 200 wins and many years coaching eight-man football, where the conversions are most relevant, the Tigers head coach said the approach is pretty simple. "There's no secret to it," Kerbo said, "You just have to execute." On the wings of a perfectly executed two-point conversion Saturday, Class C No. 1 Tipton won a wild, double-overtime state semifinal over No. 3 Sharon-Mutual. Tipton quarterback Gerald White found Tanner Knight all alone in the end zone to give the Tigers a pair of points and a 42-40 win. A lot was on the line. Hanging in the balance was Tipton's season, the chance to defend its 2012 state title, make its third consecutive trip to the state finals and beat Sharon-Mutual for the third straight year in the semifinals (regretfully, I incorrectly referenced the latter in last Friday's column). It all hinged on a short play from from the 3-yard line worth two points, one Kerbo and Co. thought about using on their touchdown in the second overtime. The Tigers had been running jet sweeps all night and noticed a backside cornerback was coming hard off the edge, leaving receivers open. And just one play earlier, Bryant Flores tied the game at 40-40 on a jet sweep.
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