NORMAN — There is the temptation to believe that tonight is different, that the fact Norman High beat Norman North in a 1-0 shootout March 12 at John Crain Field creates an entirely different dynamic at North tonight, where the Tigers and Timberwolves meet in Class 6A’s round of eight.
Only it doesn’t.
What’s different is the Tigers know they have beaten the T-Wolves and the T-Wolves know they were beaten by the Tigers and, yes, that’s something. But what’s not different is everything else.
North is still the over-talented favorite with all the recent history — March 12 aside — and more firepower than two or three groups of Tigers. And NHS is still the upstart, overachieving underdog.
If the Tigers are no longer the Little Orange Engine That Could, they are the Slightly Larger Orange Engine That Could.
Another way of looking at it?
As comfortable as any team can be facing elimination and trying to win a Class 6A state championship, the Tigers and T-Wolves should be that comfortable tonight. They’re playing old roles.
“It’s a role we’ve been in since 1999,” NHS coach Gordon Drummond said.
The T-Wolves have the best and most electric player in Mauro Cichero, a player Drummond called Thursday “the best player in the state.”
It also has the leadership of 11 seniors, including Ashton Bray and Curtis McRae, both headed to play college soccer at Division I Central Arkansas and, all of that aside, have you seen the T-Wolves lately?
Since getting back from Alabama the first week of April, North has been as explosive as any team from its illustrious past, including the 2010 and 2012 state champion T-Wolves.
“I think if we play well,” North coach Geo Claros said, “we win.”
He should think that.
He has every reason to think that. And still, the thing about playing NHS, it’s not necessarily true.
That is the thing about Drummond’s Tigers. Though they haven’t lived in their own half of the field the way they have other seasons, they’re always going to be pretty comfortable back there if they have to. And about the most blanket statement you can make about NHS soccer this season is a simple one: They just don’t lose.
Not that they haven’t had all kinds of chances.
The Tigers have won 13 games this season and lost one, a 1-0 decision to Edmond North. The last time they won more was 2002 when they won 15 games and played for a state title. And still, of those 13 wins, three have come in shootouts and six others have been one-goal decisions garnered in regulation or overtime.
North, meanwhile, has lost three shootouts, won one game by one goal, one game by two goals, three games by three goals, five games by four goals and one game by five goals.
Maybe NHS has the advantage, North having hardly won a close game this season and the Tigers having Andrew Arledge patrolling their net.
Yet, if you want to go with that, you must first come to terms with last season, when the big favorite T-Wolves met the overachieving Tigers in the same playoff round on the same pitch and won a close one 2-1.
Whatever happens, it’s going to be fun.
In March, the home of Sooner soccer could hardly handle the crowd. Tonight, both sets of bleachers are bound to overflow, even as the North baseball team plays about 100 yards away trying to reach the state tournament.
The only certainty is the familiarity of the storyline, the favorite and the underdog and the bragging rights that will be felt well beyond tonight.
What’s never clear is the final result. Even as the T-Wolves have owned the series, it’s never been easy.
Follow me @clayhorning