NORMAN — Class 6A is in the final year of district play for the foreseeable future, and for Norman High and Norman North, those districts couldn’t be much tougher.
District play opens this week, and NHS (2-1) and North (1-2) face an uphill road to match the playoff runs from a year ago. The Tigers, who compete in District 6A-4, open the district schedule with a trip to 2-1 Mustang, While North travels to meet a newly-resurgent and undefeated Midwest City squad.
With the first three games of the season out of the way, the “preseason,” as NHS coach Greg Nation calls it, is over. The only games used to determine whether or not a team makes the playoffs are district games, which will run from this week until the final week of the regular season. Beginning next year, Class 6A will be split into two, with the top 16 schools by attendance being split into two separate divisions, eliminating the traditional district schedule.
That makes this season the final year the Tigers or Timberwolves can accomplish the traditional goal of all teams: to win district titles.
Undoubtedly, NHS faces one of the toughest district in the state. Headlined by undefeated Lawton and 2-1 Edmond Santa Fe, ranked No. 4 and 6, respectively, the district is deeper than perhaps any of the four in Class 6A. But the rest of the group is stacked as well, with No. 9 Southmoore in the mix as well as vastly improved squads in Edmond Memorial, Mustang and Putnam City West.
It may be the toughest district in the state from which to pinpoint four playoff teams, and while the Tigers are in that mix, there’s enough depth in the district that no one’s spot is guaranteed, especially after the disappointing performance the Tigers put on in a 21-19 loss to Yukon on Friday.
Which may be good news for the team. Nation has always stressed to his team how little the first few games of a season can mean. He points to Class 5A’s Carl Albert, a team that started 1-5 a year ago before turning it around on the way to a state championship.
“The first three games don’t mean anything, but we know we’ve got our work cut out for us,” he said. “Edmond Santa Fe is a great football team, and their quarterback [OU commit Justice Hanson] is a difference-maker. Lawton is undefeated, and there’s a lot of improved teams this year.”
That extends as far down at Putnam City West, a team that traditionally finishes at the bottom of the pack but this year is off to a 2-1 start under second-year coach Rocky Martin.
The road to the playoffs may be a little easier for North, which competes in District 6A-3, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy.
The first two district games may be the toughest, with Midwest City this week and 2-1 Yukon the next. While there are several other talented teams in the district, including Edmond North and Lawton Eisenhower, it’s the first two games on the schedule that will determine the most about how highly the T-Wolves can finish.
The timing isn’t great for North, which practiced on Monday with five of its defensive starters dealing with injuries, but the T-Wolves aren’t making any excuses.
“Coach has been telling us these next two weeks could be like two district championship games,” quarterback David Cornwell said. “Now the games count for real. We’ve still got a lot of new pieces to work in, but I love going to work with these guys every day.”
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