MIAMI — Zach Gardner has long said his Miami Wardogs have to be concerned about themselves before worrying about the opposition.
That will be the case when MHS hosts third-ranked Wagoner Friday, Oct. 11 for homecoming.
It also marks the 100th birthday of Miami’s beloved Wardog mascot.
Unfortunately, MHS enters the game in the throes of a four-game losing streak and they battle a Wagoner team that hasn’t lost to the Wardogs since 2004.
“Like we’ve been talking about the past few weeks, we’re frustrated that we can’t find a way to win,” Gardner said. “There’s some little things that we’ve got to figure out in order for that to take place. We’re yet to figure that out. Inexperience I guess in that category, but the guys have to figure out they have to do the little things right for the big things to happen.
“We’re competing. We get that. But you lose by one or you lose by 40, its still a loss. It still hurts and it does nothing for you.”
On the plus side, despite being 0-2 in District 4A-3, the Wardogs are only minus-13 in points after losing by seven to Grove (28-21) and six last week against Catoosa (26-20).
Wagoner enters the game with a 4-1 record, the lone loss a one-point setback against Pryor in the second game of the season.
“We’re playing one of the toughest teams in the state, plus having the distractions of homecoming, the weather coming in (rain is in the forecast for at some point during the day) and this and that, you just hope the kids will continue to compete at the level they have tried to and not get awestruck by who’s coming to town and the situation,” Gardner said. “We have got to give ourselves opportunities and not be beaten before we get off the bus.”
That was Pryor’s first win against the Bulldogs since 2014 and just the second since 2004.
Wagoner could have tied the game, but the extra point on its final touchdown sailed wide right.
The Bulldogs are tied with No. 6 Bristow (4-1) and Cleveland (4-1) for the District 4A-3 lead.
“They (the Bulldogs) are very athletic,” Gardner said. “They outsize us. They out-athlete us. We’re not really comparing apples to apples as far as the programs. We just have to find a way to compete … and plug away at them because they are so offensive minded with their skill sets. They can score on any given play.”
Miami, McLain and Oologah all are winless in two district games.
Those two are on the horizon for the Wardogs: McLain here on Thursday, Oct. 17 then at Oologah on Friday, Oct. 25.
“We need to figure out a way to go get one or two of those and win two or three district games this year instead of just the one like last year,” Gardner said.
Conversely, Miami wraps up the regular season at home with Cleveland on Nov. 1 and at Bristow on Nov. 8.
“There’s some very tough opponents still, some of the best in our district still yet to play, but there are still some opportunities out there that if we are going to be successful, there are some things we are going to have to take advantage of,” Gardner said.
Play in the trenches will be a key for the Wardogs.
“We got manhandled up front the last two weeks,” Gardner said. “Rushing for under 100 yards for four quarters is pretty poor. That is something we’ve got to do a better job at.’
Miami has had only 70 yards rushing against Grove and netted only 83 on 33 plays at Catoosa.
Quarterback Gavin Payton has already launched 152 passes, completing 72 of those.
He’s had four games of 30-plus passes. Prior to this season, there had been only 16, including a school record 43 attempts by Kaelin Woods in 2004.
His 802 yards on 72 completions is 11th most in MHS history.
Payton is only 14 yards behind quarterback-turned musician Keith Anderson, who put up a total of 120 passes in the run-run-run era.
Payton’s go-to guy has been Damion Burris, who has caught 32 passes (7th most in a single season) for 330 yards and six touchdowns.
Burris ranks 1-2 in receptions in a game for the Dogs. He caught 12 against Wagoner in 2017 and had 11 against Tahlequah Sequoyah earlier this season.
Gardner said senior Clay McCormick is in concussion protocol after last week’s scary situation where he was knocked unconscious after colliding with a Catoosa player.
It’s expected that he will be available for the McLain game.
Catoosa drew praise from Gardner for the way things were handled.
“I was pretty pleased with Catoosa, obviously the football team with the administration and all, with how sincere they were, carrying out that injury and helping us get him taken care of. I know his parents were appreciative.”
While emergency personnel were tending to McCormick, the two teams circled up at midfield.