By DAVID MILLER News Sports Editor
When I first heard that Scott Harmon was going to be the new Ponca City football coach my natural inclination was to begin remembering things.
It doesn’t take much to get that process going, but usually what is being remembered goes back many years.
Instead, this time my thoughts went to the more recent past, involving the time that I have been working for The Ponca City News.
My first assignment as a sports writer for Sports Editor Fred Hilton was to cover area high school football teams. Fred’s bailiwick was the Ponca City Wildcats. I was responsible for smaller schools that we considered to be in our circulation area.
After having been at work at The News for three days, I was sent off to cover a game between Woodland and Pawnee in Pawnee. Being new to Oklahoma and before the days of GPS, I took the company’s road atlas with me to Pawnee so I wouldn’t lose my way.
That association with area schools on a weekly basis continued for a number of years until Fred’s retirement. During that time I was privileged to cover many very good football teams as the Ponca City area at the time was the hub of quality smaller school football.
I was on the sidelines for seven state championship games. A team from the area won all but one of those contests.
The reason that Scott Harmon’s hiring precipitated this onslaught of memory was that he was the coach of the Pawnee Black Bears team that played Millwood in the 2002 Class 2A title game, the first time in my tenure that an area team made it that far.
I did not cover that game due to a bout of bronchitis, but it was played in Stillwater and Millwood defeated Harmon’s team. It was the second straight year Millwood had won the title. One of the Woods brothers, Donovan, Rashaun or D’Juan, was on the Millwood team. I’m not sure of which one of those talented brothers was playing in high school that year, but all three later went on to be productive players for OSU.
I probably contracted the bronchitis the week before when Pawnee topped Davis in the semifinals played at Putnam City. The weather was unseasonably warm and I shucked my coat but got somewhat chilled before the afternoon was over. Pawnee’s ace running back Grant Jones gave his team the winning touchdown by breaking loose for 75 yards with less than two minutes left in the game. The Bears were able to hang on to win and advance. Jones went on to play at Oklahoma State to follow in the footsteps of Coach Harmon. I’m told that Harmon named his youngest son, Grant, in honor of Mr. Jones.
The next year Tonkawamade it to the Class A state championship game in Norman. The Buccaneers had won state titles in 1999 and 2000, but missed out in 2001 and 2002.
Returning to the big game was an expectation of Buc fans and Mike Kirtley in his first year as head coach satisfied those expectations. The game was played at what is now known as Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, but what I knew growing up as Owen Field in Norman.
I remember the game well, but what is most memorable was the weather. Ponca City and Tonkawa had been inundated by snow the night before the contest and travel was iffy. But the OSSAA indicated that the game would be played as scheduled. Driving south on I-35 I discovered that there was very little snow to be seen beginning at Perry. In Norman there had been no snow at all.
The game was evenly played with the score tied 7-7 at the half. Tonkawa led 14-13 after three quarters, but Ringling came on strong in the fourth quarter to pull out a 27-20 victory.
Ringling had a very stout defense against the run. Tonkawa was able to move through the air, however, as quarterback Brian Bowling threw for 194 yards most of which went to receiver Nate Geiser.
Tonkawa had gotten to the championship game by upsetting Crooked Oak in the semifinals in Enid. Stony Fath, now an assistant at Tonkawa, kicked a 28-yard field goal in the third overtime period to give his team a 30-27 victory over Crooked Oak. The Bucs had sent the game into overtime with a two-point conversion made on a pass from Bowling to Geiser. I remember Geiser making a diving catch and I think it was on that two-point conversion play
Tonkawa made it back to the state championship game in 2004 in one of the most memorable games ever for a Ponca City resident. The game featured Tonkawa against the No. 1 ranked Pawnee Black Bears coached by Harmon, and was played in Po-Hi’s Sullins Stadium. There was a huge crowd in attendance and since there was only one admissions gate open that day there was a very long line waiting to get tickets. Some weren’t able to be seated until the game was well in progress.
Pawnee won the game 31-14 and the star for the Black Bears was their star all season long, running back Gerald Jones, a younger brother of Grant. There was a third Jones boy on the Pawnee team, Gerald’s twin brother Gerard. Gerard was used primarily as a blocking back, but I remember one play where Gerald was a decoy and the ball was handed to Gerard, who scooted off for a touchdown. That has been Pawnee’s only state footballchampionship.
Mike Kirtley brought his 2005 Tonkawa team back to the state championship game for the third consecutive year. And this time the Bucs weren’t going to be denied. The game was against Washington and was played in Wantland Stadium in Edmond. Tonkawa led early, but Washington pulled to within three at 14-11 in the fourth quarter. After Washington had scored, Bo Bowling took the ensuing kickoff and ran it back 90 yards for a touchdown to give the Bucs a safer lead. Tonkawa’s Adam Smith then picked off a Washington pass and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown to put the game out of reach with a 28-11 margin. No area team made it to the state championship game in 2006, but in 2007 the Woodland Cougars coached by Joe Turner played for the Gold Ball against Okeene in Putnam City. Woodland got off to a bad start and lost 31-0. Again I had to miss this game and again I think it was a case of bronchitis that sidelined me.
But I had witnessed the semifinal game as Woodland defeated Hominy 31-7 in Sullins Stadium. Who was Hominy’s coach? Scott Harmon, who left Pawnee after the 2004 season to have brief stints as coach at Tulsa Central and McAlester.
The loss to Woodland was Harmon’s first loss in Sullins. He had noted before the game that he was 2-0 in the Po-Hi facility. His first win was in a junior high game as a player and the second was the 2004 win over Tonkawa.
In 2008 Morrison made the jump from eight-man to 11-man football. As an eight-man team, the Wildcats had won 13 Gold Balls, including one in 2007. In their first year in the 11-man game, Morrison made it all the way to the championship game which was played in Putnam City. The opponent was Okeene, which had won the Class A title the two previous years. Morrison won a very close game 13-9. I remember getting to the game a little late. Parking was hard to come by, but I found a place, along with a lot of others going to the game, in a nearby shopping center. It didn’t appear that any of the businesses were open on that Saturday afternoon. When I got to the stadium I heard an announcement that those parking in that lot would have their cars towed. Many of us had to scramble back and find another place. By the time I got to the game it was underway. But it was a good one and I remember that Coach Cory Bales, who prefers to run the ball, called a pass play that worked to perfection andit gave his team the winning touchdown. Quarterback Shawn Walls threw the pass to Latelle Graves who went unscathed into the end zone. As I recall it came on a crucial third or maybe fourth-down play. Okeene had made it to the title game with wins over Woodland and Tonkawa in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds.
Tonkawa made it back to the state championship game in 2009. That was the senior season for Jake Love, who eventually went to Kansas to play college ball. During the season Love was almost unstoppable as a running back, but also was one of the better linebackers anywhere around. The Buccaneers played Stroud and it was a classic game with Tonkawa winning 7-6. Stroud had scored late in the game but missed the extra point to give Tonkawa a one-point win. This game was played in Stillwater in Boone Pickens Stadium, where the press corps (all four or five of us) was treated royally. Just as an aside, D. J. Bishop, who is currently a coach at Po-Hi in football and basketball, was quarterback of the Tonkawa state champs in 2009.
The next year was a real bonus for area teams. There were two who made it that far. In Class C, Deer Creek-Lamont was seeking its first Gold Ball. And Woodland, coached by Joe Sindelar, had made it back to the Class A title contest.
The DCLA game was in the afternoon at Stillwater High School’s brand new stadium. It was a very cold day, but this game was played in the afternoon and the sun shone brightly which helped somewhat.
DCLA was playing Shattuck and won relatively easily 28-0. David Zachary was the DCLA coach.
Woodland played Stratford the next Saturday at night in Boone Pickens, and it was terribly cold. The Cougars came away with a 7-0 victory in a very closely played game. In fact the game’s regulation time ended with the score 0-0. In overtime Stratford had the ball first but Woodland’s Patrick Bartlett picked off a pass ending Stratford’s chance. On the first play for the Cougars, back Willie Zackery scooted through the Stratford defense for a 10-yard touchdown and a Woodland victory.
Since 2010 there has been a little football drought at least as far as playoffs are concerned. Morrison made it to the semifinals in 2016 and to the quarterfinals in 2017. No other team has had much postseason success.
However, Tonkawa is moving from Class 2A to Class A next season. Things are looking up at Newkirk, Woodland and Pawnee. Morrison has a solid nucleus returning. We just might have a smaller school team from this area go deep into the playoffs in 2018. If so, I am hoping to be there to cover it.