Football coaches will go to great lengths to avoid a hole in the schedule and an open date.
Bill Blankenship once took the Union Redskins more than 800 miles to play Farmington, New Mexico.
That was in 1996, part of the dinosaur days of high school football. Dinosaur days? Do current players remember anything before the spread offense?
Schools used to travel longer distances out of necessity. Today, with more awareness of opponents in other states brought on by the Internet, the same teams do it for the novelty, the challenge and the prestige.
Three such matchups highlight Friday’s busy schedule in the Tulsa area, along with Jenks’ visit to Bixby, marking the 100th anniversary of what is believed to be those teams’ first encounter.
Union and Broken Arrow host Texas powerhouses Euless Trinity and Southlake Carroll, respectively. It is the second half of a two-year contract between the four schools. And Sand Springs opens at home to Pulaski Academy of Little Rock, Arkansas, that state’s three-time defending Class 5A champion.
Because both had open dates last year, Sand Springs coach Dustin Kinard agreed to a home-and-home series with Pulaski Academy, a team that almost never punts on fourth down, almost always kicks onside following a score and has lost three times in four years.
The Bruins threw an 88-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-25 and pounded the Sandites 56-21 in Little Rock last year.
“They’re a great team, and in the end, nondistrict games don’t matter,” Kinard said. “You get better when you play quality opponents.”
Such games can lift a team in the national rankings, said Zack Poff, national football editor for MaxPreps.com and the man in charge of the Xcellent 25 rankings.
“Euless Trinity and Southlake Carroll have been two of Texas’ best programs for quite some time now. So anytime you can get a win over a school like that, it is good for your national ranking, and that goes for a win over Pulaski Academy,” Poff said.
Even losing such a game can help a program in the long run, Pulaski Academy coach Kevin Kelley said.
“No question, it’s put our school on the national map,” Kelley said. “(Pollsters) look at us more now because we’ve proven we’re not afraid to go out and play anybody in the country.”
Pulaski Academy’s only loss of 2016 was at Salt Lake City (Utah) East. A week later, East defeated California’s fabled Concorde De La Salle.
None of the teams involved Friday appears in any of the various national Top 25s. But Pulaski Academy is 84th and Union is 157th in the MaxPreps computer rankings. Poff said Union “legitimately” has a chance to crack the Xcellent 25.
“A win over Euless Trinity would help them out for sure. Having a big-time recruit like (Oklahoma State receiving commit) CJ Moore helps that, too,” he said.
Union coach Kirk Fridrich said he doesn’t schedule for the national rankings.
“Our philosophy has been to search out the best competition,” Fridrich said. “Since my first year in 2007, we’ve played nine games with out-of-state opponents to help with this philosophy of testing our team early. It has really pushed our coaches and players to prepare for a three-week schedule that is much like the playoffs, which makes us better for district.”
It’s hard to deny that the confidence the Redskins gained from their win at Southlake Carroll last season — the third game with the Dragons in as many years — helped propel them to the 6A Division I state title.
And what about the prestige factor associated with such matchups? Since its games with Farmington (1995-96) and Fort Smith Northside (1992-97) in the dinosaur days, Union has set the bar for Oklahoma schools, playing high-profile programs in five other states.
Fox Sports Net televised Union’s 2006 opener against Hoover, Alabama, and ESPNU aired a 2011 game against Shreveport (Louisiana) Evangel. Union’s national profile helped draw GEICO and ESPN to televise last Saturday’s season opener at Broken Arrow.
In prestige terms, it’s hard to deny that Union’s 2014 overtime loss to Southlake Carroll — in the Dallas Cowboys’ $1.2 billion AT&T Stadium — was the granddaddy of them all.