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Durant Lions head into district play this week

Kevin Farr,
The Bryan County News
Durant High School junior running back Francisco Avila breaks up field for one of his three 70 yard-plus touchdown runs against Madill. Avila is the Lions' leading rusher and offensive catalyst heading into this week's district opener against Shawnee.

Many coaches often say the football campaign is broken down into multiple seasons – the preseason, the non-district season and the all-important district season.

Those thoughts have been completely tossed out the window during an unusual 2020 season in which teams are basically on a week-to-week basis whether or not they will play.

Sometimes even less than that, as was the case with Durant High School’s final non-district game last week against Ada, which was initially canceled, but then reinstated Monday afternoon before the game after the Cougars determined they would have enough non-quarantined players to participate.

Ada had originally canceled both its Week Two game with McAlester and Week Three contest against Durant after a large number of players were pushed into quarantine status following a positive COVID-19 test result of a player from Week One foe Ardmore.

“We are just happy if we get to the end of the week and are able to play right now,” Durant head coach Todd Vargas said. “There are a bunch of teams not getting to play because of positive tests or quarantine situations. Fortunately, we’ve been able to avoid those for the most part.”

Due to having their entire preseason canceled as a safety precaution, the Lions’ first two games were a hodgepodge smorgasbord of good, bad and ugly.

They whipped Madill, 42-14, in the opener and then were stifled by Glenpool, 20-0.

There is no need in looking any further than Durant’s new flexbone offense as the catalyst as well as the culprit. It has been a Jekyll-and-Hyde showing.

The Lions rolled to 486 yards rushing in a workman-like thrashing of Madill, but managed only 129 yards and turned the ball over six times in the loss to Glenpool.

“I really don’t have an answer,” Vargas commented. “As good as we looked versus Madill, we looked equally as bad against Glenpool and they weren’t doing anything a whole lot different against us.

“We’ve got to be more consistent with our execution on the offensive side of the football. We can’t make the mistakes with turnovers and penalties we did in the Glenpool and have a chance to compete with the people we have to face in district play.”

One constant for the Lions’ offense has been junior running back Francisco Avila, who is averaging 11.6 yards per carry through two weeks of the season. Those numbers were a bit inflated by his 332-yard, five-touchdown performance in Week One, but he has still been the team’s most consistent weapon thus far.

“With his running style, I told Francisco he was going to be great in this offense when we put it in because he’s tailor-made for it,” Vargas said. “He’s a one-cut guy that gets up field and has a tremendous burst.

“When we get a push up front and good block from our slot backs, he’s got a chance to do big things.”

One thing Durant will need to do better to compete in an ultra-tough district is improve the passing game, which had not completed a pass through the first two weeks of the season.

Quarterback Chance Dotson has the second-most rushing attempts on the team while averaging almost five yards per carry, but had misfired on all six aerial tries.

“We’ve got to be able to do some things with the passing game to keep defenses honest against us,” Vargas added.

The opening stretch of District 5A-3 action is a virtual gauntlet for the youthful Lions as they start with Shawnee at home Friday on Military Appreciation Night.

Shawnee drops back to 5A this season after two difficult years in rugged Class 6A.

The two teams last met as district foes back in 2017 when current Oklahoma Sooner All-American center Creed Humphrey led the Wolves to a 51-28 win.

After the Shawnee match up is a road tilt at district favorite Tulsa Bishop Kelley before returning for homecoming against currently undefeated McAlester.

“We’re going to have to bring energy and play better,” Vargas said of the upcoming district slate. “We have come rugged tests early. We just have to take them one game at a time and keep getting better every week.”