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Mac players realize they must play tougher this time around if they are going to beat Buffs in 5A semifinals

MacArthur coach Brett Manning is not known for long, drawn-out pre-game speeches, he's known for getting to the point and sticking to the basics.

This week it will be even easier, all he needs to say, or write on the chalkboard, is this score  56-20.

That's the score from last year's Class 5A semifinal game between the Highlanders and McAlester, a game which the Buffaloes won in convincing fashion. And while the word revenge hasn't been tossed around the Mac football program very much this week, the Mac players and coaches all know that they didn't play their brand of football last year and they are determined to show the true character of the program tonight when they meet again. It's not so much about revenge but about playing Mac football  hard-hitting and very physical.

Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. at Choctaw's Bill Jensen Stadium, which is the same place they played a year ago. Tickets are $7 per person, both adults and students. 

Manning said that the mere fact that these same two teams are meeting at the same stage in the playoffs is a sign of the quality of both programs.

"It takes a great deal to get there, to reach this point," Manning said. "They've been there several times in the past and that's because they have good coaches and disciplined athletes.

"They have their system and they commit to making it work. Each year they lose players but they plug in new guys who find a way to get the job done. And we feel like we are very similar, we have our schemes and system and we've done a pretty good job making our own impact during the playoffs."

However, despite having been to the semifinals and finals on a regular basis  this will be Mac's 17th semifinal appearance  the Highlanders have still not hoisted that prized Gold Ball. Their last title game appearance came in 2011 where Mac lost to Guthrie, 24-7. 

To reach the title game this season, the Highlanders have to control McAlester quarterback Dalton Wood, a 6-4, 250-pounder who draws comparisons to Oklahoma tight end Blake Bell, who has won some big games for the Sooners as quarterback. 

In fact, Wood has committed to play football at Oklahoma and the plan is to move him to tight end when he arrives on the Norman campus. Sound familiar?

For now Wood is the primary runner on the McAlester team, but he could just as easily be an offensive lineman because he's bigger than every player who will be blocking for him.

"He's fast for his size, plus he's tough to bring down," Manning said. "They will run him a lot. They use him on a quarterback zone read, they run him on a quarterback counter; they find a lot of ways to put the ball in his hands and let him make plays with his legs. He's capable of getting outside on you and if you don't control the edge you can be in trouble. Our ends will have to play sound fundamental football against this bunch."

Thus far Wood has carried the football 131 times for 1,198 yards and 19 touchdowns. He's averaging a very impressive 9.1 yards per carry. Fullback Rhyln Stephens has tacked on 772 more yards for the Buffs. 

The Lawton Constitution

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