There’s the smell of pigskin in the air, and it will be on display tonight when the Sallisaw Black Diamonds begin the Brandon Tyler era with an 8 p.m. home game against the Stigler Panthers at Perry F. Lattimore Stadium.
“We’re really excited,” Tyler said. “The kids are ready. The community is ready to go. We’ve been hitting on each other for the last two weeks. We had a really good scrimmage at Grove. We just have to see improvement in our secondary. We have to tackle a little bit better. Offensively, I thought we ran the ball extremely well at Grove. We have to start completing some passes downfield. The effort was there. The physicality was there. That’s one thing I’ve been preaching since I’ve been here — being physical, showing effort and running to the football. I thought our kids did a good job of that (in last week’s scrimmage).”
The last time the Black Diamonds won a football game was a 34-12 District 4A-4 victory over Tulsa McLain. They have lost 16 straight games. There would be nothing nicer than ending the losing streak tonight.
“It would be huge, especially against a quality opponent like Stigler,” Tyler said. “They do a tremendous job. Coach (Cade) Sherwood and his staff do a great job down there. They’ve been well established in (Class) 3A for the last few years. It’s definitely going to be a big ball game. It would be awesome to end the losing streak here in my first game as coach. For these seniors, they deserve it more than anybody. They’ve worked their tails off all summer and in preseason practices. They’re very deserving of winning.”
However, Tyler is just as quick to point out how important it is to begin 1-0, regardless of riding a winning or losing streak.
“Everybody wants to start off 1-0,” he said. “We just have to take it one game at a time. It starts (tonight) with Stigler. It just sets the tone for the whole year — for football season, on into basketball and everything else. So, we want to start the season off 1-0. We’re looking forward to the opportunity. I feel like our guys are getting to where we need to be. We’re ready to go.”
A diversified offense is the biggest concern the Panthers will provide tonight.
“Their offense is very sophisticated, and their screen (passing),” Tyler said. “They like to throw the ball. They like to come back with the counter-run game off that. What they do offensively is hard to replicate in practice. We have a lot to prepare for. I thought our scout team did a tremendous job getting us prepared this week. Offensively, we’re going to see a lot of different fronts (from Stigler’s defense). They’re going to have an odd 5-2 and a three-quarter (3-4) looks. We have to prepare for that. They’re very aggressive on defense. Our offensive line is going to have to control the line of scrimmage.”
There are more keys to a win tonight than controlling the line of scrimmage, according to Tyler.
“We have to win the battle in the kicking game,” he said. “I think it’s one of the aspects of the game that gets overlooked. We can’t turn the ball over. We can’t have a fumble. We can’t have a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown. The list goes on. We have to be solid in the kicking game. We want to try to flip the field. Our conditioning is going to play a big part. As hot as it’s been the last week, and it’s going to be hot again Friday, I think the kids in the best condition will have the upper hand.”