AFTON - Fairland head coach Choo Thomas has been part of the Afton-Fairland football rivalry in a way very few have been involved.
He was a standout player with the Owls and has been head coach on both sides.
Friday night, he'll be on the visitors' side for what will be at least the 84th renewal of one of Oklahoma's oldest high school football rivalries.
“I know a lot of people at Afton, coached a lot of the kids there who are still around - some of their kids are even playing,” said Thomas, who is in his first season at the Fairland helm. “It makes it a unique situation for me. It's one of those games that everyone enjoys coaching in and playing in. It will be a lot of fun for everybody.”
His counterpart, Afton's Zach Gardner also has deep ties in the rivalry.
Gardner, also in his first season as the Eagles' head coach, also played in the game and was an assistant to Jerry Springer last year.
“This is a different aspect, but it's still the same rivalry,” Gardner said. “It (the rivalry) is not as intense as it was back then.”
Afton has widened its lead in the rivalry to 46-35-2 thanks to five straight wins. Fairland's last victory came in 2001.
“There doesn't need to be lot said since its Fairland-Afton,” Thomas said. “We're just 5 miles apart. It's not such a bitter rivalry as it used to be - it's a lot more friendly than it was years ago.”
The Eagles evened their District A-7 record with a 31-16 victory over Quapaw.
The Owls, however, dropped to 0-2 in the district with a 41-0 loss to Commerce.
“I'm not say we played our best but they have a very good group of athletes,” Thomas said. “They took advantage of a lot of our mistakes.”
Fairland had only two turnovers, both coming on interceptions. However, one was returned 27 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.
The Owls also surrendered a safety in the second quarter when the ball was snapped out of the back of the end zone on a punt.
“A win would make their season,” Gardner said. “They've got a couple of threats back there (in running back Chuck Cassinelli and quarterback Casey Robertson). We've got to play well or we're going to get beat.”
Quapaw had taken a 16-15 lead on a 25-yard Joey Bowling-to-Micah Robertson TD pass and the conversion run by Clayton Hart with 5:20 until halftime.
But a 30-yard touchdown run by quarterback Ryan Markes, slowed by a hamstring injury, gave Afton the lead for good at 8:23 of the third quarter.
The Eagles' final score came on a 38-yard pass from Markes to Jacob Keaton.
“Afton traditionally has been a very good team,” Thomas said. “They've been in the playoffs the last several years. They have good athletes and have been executing well. They are just overall a good football team.”