SEQUOYAH — Two years, nine months and 25 days.
That is how long Sequoyah football will have gone since its last win when it opens the season against Inola on Aug. 28. It has certainly been a grueling experience for coach Rob Gilbreath and the Eagles.
Luckily, 2020 — of all years — could be the season they have been patiently waiting for the past 1,000-plus days.
Sequoyah has left the unforgiving gauntlet of District 3A-4 and now resides in Class 2A, which greatly increases its chance to not only end its 21-game losing streak, but to also make its first playoff appearance since 2017.
VYPE Oklahoma predicts the Eagles to do just that, placing them at fourth in District 2A-8, which is good enough for a playoff spot.
With nine returning starters on both sides of the ball, Sequoyah has good reason to be optimistic.
“We’ve got a good senior group this year, and basically all of them have played the last two years,” Gilbreath said. “They’ve got a lot more experience behind them. We’ve got some really good skill kids, so we’re going to try to spread the ball around a little bit. We’re going to be fast on defense with some of those kids, and we’ll probably be closer to two-platooning, which means we won’t have to be playing everybody two ways like we have in the past couple of years.”
However, simply moving down a class doesn’t mean success will come easy for the Eagles.
Key Question: Can Sequoyah outduel middle-of-the-road teams?
Boasting a top-heavy lineup of Adair, Sperry and Rejoice Christian, there is no denying 2A-8 is one of the toughest districts in the class.
Sperry (2018) and Adair (2015) have each won a state title in the past five years, and Rejoice made it to the semifinals the past two seasons in Class A.
Those three teams are the frontrunners, and rightfully so. Falling to perennial juggernauts won’t be classified as bad losses for the Eagles.
That fourth spot, though, is a wide-open race.
Dewey, Kansas and Nowata each made the playoffs in 2019 and will be looking to make a return trip. Sequoyah, along with Salina, might be a bit overlooked heading into this season.
Whether that will play into the Eagles’ favor remains to be seen, but they have more returning talent than all four of those contenders. Not to mention the experience of battling the likes of Verdigris, Berryhill, Cascia Hall and Inola in Class 3A.
With so many seasoned veterans on the roster, Sequoyah won’t be intimidated by its new Class 2A foes.
Of course, moving down a class has its disadvantages as well.
“Going into 2A, we have no idea what any of those teams will bring to the table,” Gilbreath said. “We don’t know what offense they run, what defense they run, what kids they have coming back and who started last year because we haven’t played them before.”
Key Returners: Brett Burks and Logan Hattaway. What is better than returning your starting quarterback? Returning your starting running back as well.
Burks showed a lot of promise as a freshman signal caller a year ago, and Hattaway led the team in rushing while also finishing as the second-leading receiver.
With that much experience behind a long-serving offensive line anchored by Reese Rumsey, the Eagles look primed to increase their offensive scoring from last year’s 10.3 points per game.
However, Gilbreath is more excited about what the entire team can accomplish as a unit.
“I don’t know if we have one key returner,” Gilbreath said. “We were in a coaches meeting the other day, and one coach was like, ‘Man, I can’t believe how many guys we have who look exactly the same and run exactly the same,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I agree.’ We’ve got a lot of options there. This is a great opportunity for us.”
Key Game: Sept. 25 at Kansas. The district opener is probably the biggest game on the schedule this year.
Regardless of how Sequoyah fairs against Dewey, Nowata and Salina later in the season, a loss to the Comets could be a playoff eliminator. A win, though, would set the Eagles up for an exciting postseason push the remaining six weeks.
The only thing going against Sequoyah is the fact that all four of those games are on the road.
Talk about a bad draw. But Gilbreath is confident, nonetheless.
“We gotta beat those four to get in to guarantee (a playoff spot),” Gilbreath said. “If we slip up, we’re going to have to beat one of those powerhouses. That’s what we’re faced with.
“If we win five or six games, we’re where we should be and back on track, but I think we’ll have a chance to maybe win even more than that.”