By Chuck Reherman
The first Friday in September means one thing.
It’s Canadian County Bedlam time.
The annual clash between Yukon and Mustang is expected to be another tight battle as both teams enter the game with talented offenses.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday at Bronco Stadium in Mustang.
It is the second road trip (of four to open the season) for the Millers who come into the game with a 1-0 record after opening the season with a 21-13 win over Edmond North this past Friday. It will be the season opener for the Broncos as they begin the Lee Blankenship era. Blankenship (who is related to legendary Oklahoma coach Bill Blankenship) takes over the program after coaching at Bartlesville High School last year.
The Millers snapped a four-game losing skid to the Broncos last year, beating Mustang 19-14 at Miller Stadium. YHS’ last win before that came in 2013, a 19-16 win in Mustang.
Another standing room only crowd is expected for the game and fans are encouraged to get to the game early due to road construction on Mustang Road that has the main entrance to the school system (where the stadium is located) closed.
Yukon will face a Mustang team that will have somewhat of a different look under Blankenship as the Broncos, who have been more pass oriented in the past, will bring in a more balanced attack on offense and a different defensive look as well.
The Millers had a solid showing in their win over Edmond North last week and YHS head coach Jeremy Reed is looking for that success to carry over to the second week of the season for the Millers.
“This is a fun and big week for the players,” Reed said. “It is pretty special, rivalry week games are always special and makes for a interesting week of practice.
“It is a long week for the kids, for me it is short, there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day,” he said. “For the players it is a long week, a lot of hype and anticipation. Everywhere they go someone is going to talk to them about the game, so while they are here, we have to keep them tempered down and focused on what really matters and that is us. We respect Mustang, we respect their staff and know they will do a good job, but ultimately we have to take care of ourselves and be focused on what and we do and do it at the highest level we can. That has always been my emphasis. We don’t talk about a team all year long, only game week and that is because we want our kids to understand that our focus is more about us than about our opponent. When you put more attention on your opponent than yourself, you can get yourself in a bind. We will try and keep them toned down.”
The Millers, with one game under their belt, could have an advantage going into the game. The team has gotten those “first game jitters” out of the way and for most teams, their biggest improvement comes from week one to week two.
“I believe us being in the second game has to be an advantage,” Reed said. ‘No matter who you are playing in that first game, you have issues that arise that maybe you are not wanting to happen. You can expect them to happen, but when they do it is still not good. We hope we learned some things from last Friday night that won’t show up again and that will give us somewhat of an advantage against a team that has not played a game yet.
“If we show up, keep our emotions under control and not get caught up in the atmosphere of what it is and don’t let outside voices enter our mind, I do feel the game will play itself out and we will be fine. But that is a lot easier said than done where you are dealing with kids 15 to 18 years old and you are looking at an environment that is up to 10,000 people. It is a very special game to be a part of, but that is the challenges of trying to keep your kids focused on what you are trying to achieve.”
The Millers will face a Mustang team that is expected to be better than 4-6 from last year. The Broncos will rely on the running of Harvey Phillips in the ground game as Khari Brown, Hayden Conrad (6-6, 210) returns to lead the offense at quarterback.
The Broncos will gave an experience front line, anchored by Cade Williams (6-3, 260) and Conner Leaper (6-3, 270).
“Mustang is better football team than they were a year ago at this time,” Reed said. “Their offense last year was extremely young and they return four of their five offensive linemen and that is always big when you return continuity to your front line. Their quarterback is a returning starter, their runningback didn’t play against us last year, but played the rest of the year and they return experience on the offensive side where last year they were new. That is a huge benefit in their corner.
“Defensively, they return four or five starters and are playing very aggressive and very confident. Just going to run the ball be aggressive in their nature. Coach Blankenship has done a good job in changing the mindset of their culture, you can tell all that just by the energy on their sidelines. So, we will have a great opponent to go against.
“Offensively, it is some of the same things they have done but there is only so many things you can do in the spread world. Everyone is going to RPO (run-pass option), we haven’t seen that a lot on film from their scrimmages, but we know it is coming. It will look to the eye somewhat similar to what they have done in the past.
“Defensively, it will be much different from what we have seen in the last two years in regards of going against our offense. I don’t foresee them running the same front have the past two years and with a new staff, you just don’t know what they are going to do. We will prepare and do what we do and see which team can do the best.”
The Millers come into their second game after a solid performance on offense, but one that did start off a little slow. The offense rolled up 407 yards of offense against the North defense, including 391 yards in the ground in 59 carries (a 6.7 yard per carry average).
The defense after giving up a pair of first half touchdowns and big plays, allowed North only 13 plays in the second half. The Huskies had the ball only three minutes and 44 seconds of the 24 second half minutes.
“With my 15 years of coaching experience, you kind of know how most first games are going to go and for what I thought happened, went pretty much consistent to what we thought we happen,” Reed said. “I was very proud of the fact that we didn’t turn the ball over, that is something that happens a lot in week one and every for Edmond North, it was a very clean game for protecting the ball. They had the one interception and we put the ball on the ground once, but we were fortunate to get on it.
“Overall, I found way more positives than negatives,” he said. “I really enjoyed getting to watch the film and share notes with the kids to get better for this week. I feel that is my biggest growth for a team is from the first week to the second. I am very excited to see what that looks like for the 2019 team.
“I’m always happy to get that first game out of the way. The first game is always extremely tough because of all the things we have talked about, but also your opponent has all summer, spring and winter to prepare for you. The bad thing is, is that we get to experience that all over again because I know the staff at Mustang has been preparing for us for a long time and we get to experience the same process of last week to see how they are going to fit us.”
Mustang will be tasked to stop a balanced Miller running game. YHS had seven different ball carries in the game and four of them rushed for 50 or more yards. Landon Donoho led YHS with 103 yards on 13 carries, Camron Farmer had 95 on 16, Makari Slaughter 71 on five and Caden Hernandez 56 on seven.
“The key for us this week is that we have to stay ahead of the chains don’t turn the ball over,” Reed said. “We feel good about what we do when we stay in a positive down and distance and when we are not giving them an extra possession. When we do that, we feel like have a chance to win every football game.
“That is always our emphasis,” he added. “Our kids are in year three of doing this and us preaching ball security and how we do things in practice is now becoming more natural and not having to be coaches as much in reminding them how to hold onto the football. That is always a big coaching point for us.
“I do anticipate seeing a lot of people six or seven yards from the line of scrimmage and maybe somewhat daring us to put the ball in the air. We are fine with that, we feel like we have answers for that. Last week, we just didn’t get to some of the moments where we get to our passing game. We will wait and see what they throw at us.”
Reed was pleased with how quarterback Brayden Dutton managed the game and the offense in his first start and anticipates his young signal caller to continue to get better as the season rolls on.
“Brayden was extremely calm in his first game,” he said. “He did a phenomenal job of managing the game and when he threw the ball, I thought he threw the ball well. He graded out very well as far as we grade.
“I don’t know if he could have had a much better game to start his high school career,” he said. “His challenge this week is entering his first Yukon-Mustang game that is a big environment. I expect him to be fine, he is not an emotional kid and he will be fine.”
The Miller defense, after a sluggish start played well in the second half. The Millers were led on defense by Cade Peters at linebacker and Collin Grulkey in the secondary. Grulkey had the key interception that stopped a North scoring threat.
“We feel Mustang wants to run the ball downhill at you and bring some power football principles, but then they want to throw the ball on some intermediate to quick passing game type stuff,” Reed said. “Their goal is to be balanced and we just have to wait and see their way to attack us is.
“We have to eliminate the big plays,” he said.” We gave up some big plays in the passing game and we have to do a better job of being in position. There were a lot of open receivers and not a lot of people around them. That got cleaned up in the second half so my hope we learned in the first half what to do and what not to do and hopefully we can carry that over into this week and be better in that department.
“Playing our first game on the road is a plus for the next time. You continue to get better and this a short trip. We will go down there and have some fun and play in one of the best rivalry games in the state of Oklahoma.”
By Chuck Reherman