PRYOR, OK —
When the season began, the Pryor football team was picked to finish sixth in District 5A-4 and miss the playoffs.
Heading into Week 12, the Tigers are sitting at 8-3, two wins away from a berth in the state championship game.
If you ask head coach Jason Freeman why the Tigers are going toe-to-toe with the state’s elite teams, his answer is quick and simple: the offensive and defensive lines.
“They’re the reason why we’re to this point,” Freeman said. “I tell them every week, the game is going to be won or lost up front ... They are a good group, they are coachable, they really take it to heart, being physical, nasty guys. They understand that the balance of the game weighs upon them.”
The main group of Tigers — senior left guard Josiah Gauger, junior center Nick Giltner, senior right guard Alex McCammon and junior left tackle Brandon Pope — lost a big contributor in left tackle Will Stover, who will miss the playoff run with a leg injury he sustained in the season finale against East Central.
Sophomore Dylan T. Couch, who was getting meaningful minutes backing up Pope at right tackle, will fill in for Stover down the stretch.
“He’s gotten a lot of reps, a lot of playing time,” Freeman said. “Missing Will is a big deal. He’s a physical guy out there.”
Many of those same linemen play defense as well. Freeman said McCammon, a nose guard, “almost never leaves the game.”
Freeman knows a thing or two about the battle that goes on in the trenches. At Muskogee High School, he was an all-district selection as a tight end and linebacker and was an All-Big 12 honorable mention at tight end as a senior at Oklahoma.
Freeman also personally coaches the Pryor line, a group that exemplifies the team nature of the Pryor program.
“We don’t have prima donnas,” Freeman said. “We have guys that play for each other, care for each other, especially our offensive line. They are a tight-knit group. It’s hard to break them apart, for sure.
“I think they’re really close. They like each other. It doesn’t have to be that case all the time, for the players to like each other, but they do.”
The farthest apart the linemen have been lately is on the field, when they take wide splits to open up running lanes for the Tiger backfield. Stover, Couch, Gauger, Giltner, McCammon, Pope and tight end Ryan Ogg are the main reason two Tigers, senior running back Matt McGouldrick and junior quarterback Brennon Barth, were each able to rack up 1,000 yards over the course of the season.
They are the first players in Pryor history to do that in the same season, and while most of the glamour will go to the ball carriers, all the credit is due to the front line.
“I talk about it a lot, they go hit guys in the mouth,” Freeman said. “We see it, they believe it. They are who we are. Just a physical group that will get after you.”