FAIRLAND - Head coach Jerry Johnson figures it’s a double-edged sword for his Fairland Owls.
They open the season with next-door neighbor Wyandotte, but he doesn’t want his players to get too caught up in the rivalry.
“The truth is the big picture starts a couple games after that,” Johnson said. “It's the same way with them. Everybody wants to get started off with a win and you want to have that success. But if you don't see what you need to see right now, you have some time to try to fix it (before the start of district play).”
The Owls had been picked as a second-division team in District A-8, but finished second and hosted a playoff game for the first time since 1988.
They had replaced 11 starters lost to graduation the year before and struggled early, losing three of their first four.
“We lost the opener last year and bounced back,” Johnson said. “Week 4 or so, we started to show some signs of improvement and find our niche for what we were going to be able to do, then built on that.”
A 38-22 victory over Oklahoma Union was a springboard that included consecutive wins over Porter and Afton. The win against the Eagles ended a nine-game losing streak for FHS in the series.
That put them in a position to battle Foyil for the district title.
The Panthers coasted to a 34-0 victory, but Fairland bounced back the following week to beat Hulbert and nail down the No. 2 spot in A-8.
Hominy ended the Owls’ dream season with a 21-20 decision.
“The home playoff game kinda whetted their appetite a little bit,” Johnson said. “We have some kids coming out who haven’t played before. That may be because of last year’s success, but we don’t know. But we are glad they are here, because it helps with our depth.”
The Owls’ preseason roster included 26 players, including seven seniors: Tyran Jones, K.C. Jones, Caleb Reynolds, Slate Boyer, Cody Drosche, Tanner Cox and Dillon Seamon.
Wyandotte enjoyed one of the state's biggest turnarounds last season, going from 0-10 to 9-3 and a trip to the second round of the Class 2A playoffs.
The Bears ended a 23-game losing streak in last year's opener, coasting to a 26-0 decision over Fairland.
It was their first since a 14-7 decision over Chelsea on Oct. 16, 2008. They had gone winless the previous two seasons.
“They will get after you and be physical,” Johnson said. “They are just going to come right at us. We saw them on film and at their scrimmage. They play hard and hustle everywhere they go. I think that's what we are going to get. I think they are going to play hard, hit us in the mouth and see how we respond.”
This will be the 79th meeting between the teams. WHS holds a 43-33-2 edge in a rivalry that dates back to 1930.
However, the teams have split the previous four meetings.