NORMAN — Greg Nation doesn’t sugarcoat what happened last week, when Norman High played the entire first quarter against Yukon without earning a first down on the way to a 21-19 defeat.
“We just did not play well,” he said. “We made too many mistakes to win.”
Those mistakes were all too clear for the Tigers. A lack of tackling, blocking and other mental mistakes doomed NHS, and a third straight slow start to begin the season finally caught up to the Tigers.
They can’t afford to make the same mistakes again. District play begins this week, and the Tigers compete in one of the state’s toughest in District 6A-4. NHS wants to improve on last season’s trip to the second round of the postseason, but in a loaded district every game will be magnified as teams fight not just to make it into the top four slots to advance to the playoffs but also jostle for seeding.
A trip to Mustang tonight for a 7 p.m. kickoff against the Broncos (2-1) is the first test, and it will be a telling one. For NHS (2-1) to make the playoffs, the Tigers likely will have to finish ahead of Mustang, a prospect that relies heavily on a victory tonight. The Broncos lost to the same Yukon team that handed NHS its only loss in the first game of the season, where the Millers came out on top 19-16 in a heated rivalry game.
That makes it hard to handicap tonight’s contest. Since that loss, Mustang has put together back-to-back wins in impressive fashion, outscoring Putnam City North and Stillwater 90-54 in that time. The Broncos are led by quarterback Frankie Edwards, who keys an explosive passing attack that scores points in bunches.
But Nation isn’t worried about that, nor is he worried about how deep the district is. What worries him most is inside his own locker room, where the Tigers have shot themselves in the foot during the first three weeks of the season.
“Our biggest enemy right now is ourselves,” he said. “What everyone else does doesn’t matter if we can’t overcome ourselves and do the right things. Until you go out and play as a team and not make mental mistakes you’re going to have a hard time getting anywhere.”
Come kickoff tonight, that means fewer penalties, fewer negative plays and fewer three-and-outs, something that has been devastating for a run-first offense that Nation said is looking to string together eight- to 10-play drives. If the Tigers are able to do that and establish their gameplan early, they’ll have a chance to walk away 1-0 in district play. If they fail to do so, they’ll put a defense onto the field that has performed well this season but has spent more time on the field than the Tigers want.
“It’s about us and worrying about what we do,” Nation said. “If we can execute and play team football, the rest of it will take care of itself.”
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