NORMAN — Things may look bleak for Norman High, but the Tigers aren’t done yet.
Every game from this point on is a must-win for NHS (3-4, 1-3), which faces an uphill battle to make it to the postseason in District 6A-4. Injuries and narrow defeats have characterized the Tigers’ season so far, and the misfortune has put them in a position they didn’t expect to be in when the season began with an impressive victory over Norman North in the Crosstown Clash.
But, while the Tigers are down, they aren’t out.
“We’re not down,” coach Greg Nation said. “It’s a bad situation, but we’re going to go out and play and do what we can do.”
And there are reasons for NHS to hope it can upset No. 6 Edmond Santa Fe (5-2, 4-1) tonight. The Wolves may be without star quarterback and Oklahoma commit Justice Hansen, while the Tigers will enter the contest after playing one of their better games of the year last week in a loss to Southmoore.
In that game, NHS actually outgained the SaberCats but allowed too many big plays to overcome. The Tigers played from behind nearly the entire game and were just short of a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
Injury concerns at NHS haven’t gone away, but the Tigers did receive a nice surprise when running back Darius Manning was unexpectedly able to play last week. The junior was effective in limited snaps and along with Dupree Young, provided the one-two punch from the backfield that has been instrumental in the Tigers’ best games to date.
Still, fighting for their playoff lives in Week 8 is not where the Tigers expected to be. Nagging injuries that have forced five preseason starters from the lineup have contributed the trouble, as did an anemic offense to open district play.
“Right now we’re beat up worse than Lee at Appomattox Courthouse,” Nation said. “The injuries hurt you and change what you can do. When Darius went out it changed some of what we could do offensively.”
The Tigers certainly looked like a different team with him back. They rushed for 313 yards, and more importantly, tallied 19 first downs after struggling to move the chains the first month of the district schedule.
But it won’t come easy this week. Edmond Santa Fe is reeling after a disappointing loss to Lawton in a top-five matchup a week ago in which Hansen went down with what appeared to be a serious ankle injury. While backup Keaton Torre performed well, the Wolves’ offense wasn’t the same.
Hansen’s injury wasn’t as serious as expected, and it’s possible he’ll be on the field when the two teams kick off tonight, though it’s an open question how close to full strength he’ll be.
Not that who is under center for Edmond Santa Fe is the most important thing for NHS. No matter who is on the field, things are simple for the Tigers: to make the playoffs, they have to win.
“We just have to come out and play the best game we can,” Nation said.
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