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December 7, 2012

For Lions, approach stays the same

BLANCHARD — It was business as usual for the Blanchard High School football team Thursday afternoon in the locker room as the players got ready for the pep assembly for Friday's state championship game.

The players filed into the field house to get their game jerseys for the assembly, which was being held at the high school later in the afternoon. They laughed, talked, joked, looking loose and relaxed as the sound of R&B music by Usher blasted from the locker room.

Just another game.

"This week, I haven't felt like it's really different," wide receiver/defensive back Tanner Foster said. "We're just trying to get sharp in practice and keep everything the same, but do it as best as we can."

Not that the players don't know what's at stake. Even though the Lions are the team no one expected to be playing for the 3A state championship, they know exactly what they need to do, even as they make an effort not to break routine during this final week of the season.

"It's the same," linebacker Jalan Daniels said. "We've just got to keep preparing, and do what we've got to do, knowing this could be a big game and we have to show up."

The Blanchard Lions have shown up this postseason. After losing the regular season finale at Tuttle, 56-34 on Nov. 2, the Lions have shocked the state by winning four straight games in the playoffs, and only one of those games was close.

Blanchard first had to go two hours north to Cushing for the first round, and the Lions escaped with an eight-point win, 41-33.

The second round took Blanchard a couple of hours south to Madill, where the Lions hit their stride and won in a 60-7 blowout.

Two road wins earned Blanchard the chance to host the third round of the playoffs against Hilldale (Muskogee) and the Lions gave the home crowd a show with a 42-0 win.

Last weekend, Blanchard punched its ticket to Boone Pickens Stadium with a 35-7 win over Jones at Putnam City Stadium in the semifinals.

Lions head coach Jeff Craig has been in this situation before. As an assistant coach for the Carl Albert Titans in 1997 and 1998, Craig coached in the state championship games, although he said there is a lot more responsibility, on and off the field, that comes with being the head coach.

"All I had to worry about then was coaching football," Craig said. "Didn't have to worry about what time we're going to leave, what we're going to eat, what we're going to do when we get there, there are a lot of administrative things that go into it besides just football. In that respect it's different, everything else feels normal."

The task at hand is a sizable one. To win the state championship, the Lions will have to do what no team has been able to do this season: beat the Kingfisher Yellowjackets.

Kingfisher, the district 3A-3 champion, is 14-0 this season. The Yellowjackets got to play their first three playoff games at home, beating Lone Grove, Tuttle and Stigler before winning 31-26 over Seminole in the semifinals last Saturday night.

"They're a solid football team across the board," Craig said. "They're a well-coached team, and their players take care of their responsibilities. On our end, we have to finish runs, finish blocks and make plays."

After allowing 34 points against Tuttle and 33 points against Cushing, the Blanchard defense has only allowed seven points in its last three games. Jones scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery last weekend.

"We just go out there and play," Daniels said. "There's really not even much to it. We've got to stop their run, tackle well and try to contain their speed."

The play of the defensive backs will be crucial in limiting the Kingfisher offense, which averages 43.7 points per game.

"They're a good team. They're going to try to make our corners make a lot of plays, and they're going to run the ball and make it tough on us DBs, but I think we can handle it," Foster said.

Tonight's state championship game will be played at 7:30 p.m. at Boone Pickens Stadium on the campus of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, giving high school players the opportunity to play of the field of a major college football team, something that will be exciting, even if they happen to favor the Sooners, like Daniels said he did.

"Oh yeah, the atmosphere is going to be great playing there, but we've just got to treat it like we're playing here at home," Foster said. "It will be a really good atmosphere and hopefully it will be a really good game."

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