NORMAN — This week marks the culmination of a season of hard work, struggle and determination. And, for the first time, football in Norman has not one, but two, teams to pin its hopes on.
Fourth-ranked Norman North, which finished the regular season 9-1, and eighth-ranked Norman High (8-2) are no playoff also-rans; but squads that have high hopes and the means to get there. The combined 17-3 record is the best regular-season finish since the schools split 15 years ago.
And that has changed the tone of this year’s playoff discussion. In previous years only one school has advanced to the postseason with any realistic title aspirations, but things have changed in 2012. Big wins for both programs, from Southmoore and Lawton for NHS to Edmond North for Norman North, both programs have knocked off teams that at some point this season were considered by some to be the best in the state.
For months the discussion centered around whether either Norman school could compete for the title of “best in the west.” The last few weeks of the season, however, changed that to simply “best in the state.” The gap between the big east-side schools and the rest of Class 6A has narrowed considerably in recent years, though just how much is something that will play out over the final month of the season. And both Norman squads will have a say.
“I know everyone will always look to OU down the road, but I don’t want them to forget the other football teams in Norman,” NHS coach Greg Nation said. “We’ve built something here, and I’m proud of it.”
In Nation’s fifth season at NHS, he has the Tigers headed to the postseason for the third year in a row. Their second-place finish in District 6A-4 is the highest in his tenure, and the 8-2 record is a step better than last season. More importantly, Nation has shown that he’s built a program that can reload, with a new crop of names stepping up this year to replace the high-profile departures from last season, including now-Arkansas running back Donovan Roberts. With a home win Thursday over Yukon, the Tigers can give NHS its first playoff victory in a decade.
It’s the same story at North, where second-year coach Wade Standley has turned a team that went 3-7 in 2010 into a 9-1 squad that has state title aspirations.
“This senior class is a special group; as a coach you recognize that even in the middle of the season,” he said. “It’s an exciting time to be a part of the program.”
That enthusiasm isn’t limited to the locker room. Excitement is evident in the halls, and the Timberwolves are expecting a big home crowd for Friday night’s postseason opener against Southmoore.
“Other kids have walked up to me in the halls and asked me if we’re going to win on Friday,” tight end Payton Prince said. “Playing at home is going to be a really big benefit for us, and having that home crowd gets us even more excited and ready to get this win.”
Corbin HoslerFollow me @Chosler88chosler@normantranscript.com