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Oklahoma football playoffs: Elgin seeking to prove it belongs among Class 5A elite

Undefeated Owls start playoffs against stout Piedmont squad

ELGIN, OKLAHOMA - Last season, Elgin High School’s football team was fighting to prove it belonged in Class 5A. 

Consider that accomplished. The Owls now have much bigger goals on their mind.

By just about every conceivable metric, Elgin’s football program is already a success story. The current senior class began as freshmen on a team that went winless in Class 4A in 2020. Two years later, they were in Class 5A, going 8-2 and making the playoffs.

This season, the Owls have taken on all comers and emerged victorious each time, finishing the regular season 10-0. They’ve broken many school records and set new standards along the way: Most wins to start a season, most wins in a season, first district championship since 1986 and senior running back Matthew Lund setting the school record for rushing yards in a career with 4,795 and counting.

Elgin running back Matt Lund (with ball)

Elgin running back Matt Lund (with ball)

By nearly every measure and expectation, this has been the most successful season in Elgin football history. But who gets to define what success is?

While the parents, fans and community will likely forever have fond memories of this season, the most significant goals have yet to be accomplished. This team wants more than just to be the best team Elgin has seen thus far.

“All that stuff is awesome and at the end of the day, we’ll be proud of those things,” head coach Chalmer Wyatt said. “But the kids are focused on what’s ahead. They’re focused on winning a state championship.”

That might have seemed far-fetched a few short years ago. Even before the winless season, Elgin was a program that was rarely thought of as a contender.

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But here they are, ranked 4th in the Associated Press' 5A poll and entering the playoffs with plenty of momentum. But while they may be one of the top four teams in the class, there are still critics.

Elgin’s schedule included just one opponent with fewer than four losses. And when compared to the three teams ranked ahead of them, Elgin doesn’t exactly meet the template of a traditional power.

Midwest City Carl Albert, Guthrie and Del City have 22 combined state championships. Elgin has just five all-time playoff victories, and only two over the past 25 years.

But regardless of what is said, good or bad, Wyatt and his team are focused on letting their play do the talking.

“At the end of the day, we’re about proving ourselves and playing our best football,” Wyatt said. “You can say we’ve never done it before, and you’re right, that’s factual. But we’re living our own reality.

"The product is on the field. People can say what they want about us, but we’re looking forward to going out and do things we haven’t done yet.”

When Wyatt took over at his alma mater in 2019, he began to identify the up-and-coming classes and established a brand of football that would be played in Elgin, and not just at the high school level.

“I’m a firm believer in ‘things take time,’” Wyatt said. “I had my mindset, had my foundation for the program and one of the main things when I looked at when I got here were those sixth, seventh and eighth graders, because those were going to be the kids coming when we started to get this thing figured out.

"And I think we’ve succeeded in that and continued to build that.”

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The process begins early, as the seventh and eighth-grade teams run the same basic schemes and playbooks as the high school varsity. Plenty of freshmen and sophomores have started for Wyatt over the past few seasons, and not just because of necessity, but because they were the best players.

Those players who were young neophytes are now experienced veterans who have the Owls scoring 51.9 points per game while allowing just 6.4. They have an efficient offense led by Lund’s 1,561 rushing yards and quarterback Tres Lorah’s 28-to-3 TD-to-interception ratio.

Meanwhile, the defense is led by linebacker Colyn Donnelly’s 120 tackles. It’s a unit that’s developed a penchant for takeaways, taking back six interceptions for touchdowns.

Elgin players Treyvon Crabtree (84) and Keith Ferguson celebrate a touchdown during a recent game.

Elgin players Treyvon Crabtree (84) and Keith Ferguson celebrate a touchdown during a recent game.

But as good as Elgin has been this season, it’s in the playoffs where seasons can be defined.

“At the end of the day, records are irrelevant now,” Wyatt said. “That’s been our focus all week, 'Yes, good job getting here,' but you'll be done after just one game if you’re not careful.

"And I think last year left a bad taste in their mouth and that motivates them.”

Wyatt refers to the fact that Elgin earned the right to host a playoff game last season, only to fall flat in the first round to Guthrie, 17-0. While this Elgin team appears to be even better than last year’s team, the Owls’ first-round opponent offers a unique challenge.

Piedmont runs the flexbone, essentially a triple-option offense that takes patience and quick decision-making to stop. Just last week, the Wildcats led defending state champion Carl Albert by two touchdowns as late as the third quarter before giving up 28 unanswered points to the Titans in a 38-24 loss.

Still, Wyatt knows a loss could taint the perception of what’s been a near-perfect season up to this point.

“We need to be ready,” Wyatt said. “And our kids are smart enough to know that Piedmont is a good team.”

If Elgin does beat Piedmont, the Owls would host a quarterfinal matchup against either Claremore or Sapulpa. Regardless of who Elgin faces, regardless of whether the Owls are favorites or underdogs, a path to the school’s first state title won’t be easy.

But it’s a path the Owls are ready to walk.

“Obviously, you’ve got to click on all cylinders. That’s what it takes,” Wyatt said. “And I believe anyone who’s won it will tell you that you need a little luck along the way.

"All we can do is play our style of football and perform. And obviously, what we tell our guys is we want to play our best ball from here on out.”

Elgin players wait to run on the field before a recent game.

Elgin players wait to run on the field before a recent game.

Elgin photos by Tonya Ferguson 

-- Glen Brockenbush | @SBLiveOK