Claremore Christian is playing for a second state championship in three years, but claiming that title could prove troublesome.
When the Warriors arrive at Bridge Creek High School today for their 2:30 p.m. kickoff in the Heartland Christian Athletic Association Class 3A championship game, they will be across the field from Destiny Christian.
The Wildcats are a powerhouse in the HCAA eight-man ranks, and their resume is a testament to their dominance. This will be their ninth-consecutive trip to the state championship game, winning six titles in a row from 2012 to 2017.
Destiny Christian’s past two trips haven’t been as successful, though, for it lost 58-34 to Life Prep of Wichita, Kan., in 2018 before falling once again in last year’s game to Sunrise Christian Academy of Bel Aire, Kan., in a 52-50 decision.
Despite those shortcomings, the status of the program hasn’t changed.
This year, the Wildcats have outscored opponents 521-212 on the way to an 8-1 record. That is an average score of 57.9-23.6.
Their only loss came on Sept. 11 to Class B power Shattuck (40-24), which at the time was the top-ranked eight-man team in the country. They defeated Abundant Life of Little Rock, Ark., 77-8 last week to reach the championship game.
“They’re a powerhouse,” Claremore Christian coach Ryan Mullins said. “Every year, we say that championship has to go through Oklahoma City until somebody does something different.”
CCS claimed a state title of its own in 2018, but it didn’t come at the expense of Destiny Christian. The Warriors were competing in HCAA Class 2A that year and edged Wright Christian 16-10 for the trophy.
The difference between 2A and 3A is a big one, according to Mullins.
“They’re a little bigger than us, so that’s going to be tough,” Mullins said of Destiny Christian. “I think they’ll show up with probably 30 ballplayers, and we’ll come up with our 15. It’s kind of a “David vs. Goliath” for us, and they’re hard to handle. They’re athletic, and we’re probably not favored to win in anybody’s book, so we’ll see how it goes.”
CCS comes into this contest also donning an 8-1 record, though one of those wins is a forfeit. Its loss, however, doesn’t look as respectable as Destiny’s on paper.
On Sept. 25, Barnsdall handed the Warriors a 52-6 loss. They didn’t score below 42 points any other time, averaging 51.6 points per game.
Barnsdall is 7-3 thus far in its first season of eight-man ball, having moved down from the 11-man ranks of Class A this season. If CCS played in the confines of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, it would be in Class C. Destiny Christian would be in Class B.
So, how do the Wildcats compare to a team like Barnsdall?
“I don’t think they’re near as good as that,” Mullins said. “Barnsdall, I think I’ve seen them as high as No. 4 or 5 in Class B, so that’s a really, really big step up from us. They had just come down from 11-man ball, so they had a lot of 11-man players, which is quite a bit different than Class C ball, which is what we do. I don’t think (Destiny Christian) will be as fast and as physical across the board. They got a little bit of speed, but my fast players looked average with (Barnsdall). They had a lot of speed and were well coached.
“I don’t think (Destiny Christian) will be as good as that, but sometimes film is deceiving.”
Mullins said he plans to utilize the talents of quarterback Tyler Stephens and receivers Bryan Vickers, Eli Klepczyk and Griffin Parrot by attacking the edges of the Wildcats’ coverage scheme, but doing so might be easier said than done.
Vickers is one of the team’s senior leaders, and he’d love nothing more than to close out his high school career with a state title.
“It would mean a lot, especially since last year we lost in the playoffs,” Vickers said. “Almost everybody thinks that this team we’re playing is unbeatable and out of everybody’s league.”
Destiny Christian boasts 51 sacks through nine games, which means it is getting to the quarterback nearly six times per game (5.7). Noah Anderman leads the way with nine while Eric Ball and Ethan Gringrich each have seven.
The offensive line will have to play disciplined to keep Stephens safe as he works through his progressions.
“Everything they do is speed,” Mullins said. “It’s all designed for speed. They pin their ears back — they come, they come, they come — and they two-platoon a lot of their players, so that’s a lot of freshness. We’re going to have to be really in shape because a lot of our guys go both ways. They’re not real big, but they’re very, very fast. Their front five are really fast.
“Our footwork might be a little bit better than last year, and this might be a game that actually helps us with that because those guys come really quick and hit the gaps hard, so we’re going to have to be really quick on that first step.”
When the Wildcats aren’t tallying sacks, they make up for it with interceptions. They have 18 on the year, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Tanner Morstad has nine of those picks.
If that weren’t enough, Destiny Christian has 10 fumble recoveries as well, bringing its takeaway total to 28 (3.1 per game).
Despite that, Mullins is confident the Warriors will have success in the passing game.
“We think we can probably throw the ball a little bit,” Mullins said. “I feel like doing some isolation there, we could win some battles there. They play a lot of man, tight-jam coverage across the board, and we spent a lot of time working on that.
“They might come out of that, but we feel like we can win on those edges, for sure.”
Progress prediction: Destiny Christian 52, Claremore Christian 21