PRYOR, OK —
One returning state runner-up. One returning state semifinalist. One big brother-little brother rivalry that predates World War II.
If you're looking for cupcakes, Pryor's 2014 non-district football schedule is the wrong bakery.
The Tigers will open the fall with a much larger target on their collective back after a stellar 2013 season, and head coach Jason Freeman has stocked the non-district slate with a wide array of gunslingers.
“I don't know if it's sending a message to the rest of the state,” Freeman said. “They could probably care less about our schedule. Hopefully it's sending a message to our program and our players that we can go and compete with anyone.”
In Week 1, Pryor will welcome Claremore to Tiger Stadium before heading down Highway 69 in consecutive weeks to take on a pair of perennial powerhouses in Wagoner and McAlester.
“They are great programs,” Freeman said. “They are established and they know how to win.”
As tough as the 2014 schedule already looks on paper, Freeman's original plan was to add 6A power Midwest City to the mix before settling for Tulsa NOAH as the fourth non-district foe in the Week 10 slot.
Missing from the 2013 slate is traditional rival Miami, which defeated the Tigers for the first time in 13 seasons last year.
However, as far as Freeman is concerned, contesting old rivalries mean little to moving the program forward.
“I think [scheduling] has to do with expectations of your program,” Freeman said. “It has to do with the end result, and our end result is to eventually win the state championship ... I want to play 5A, 6A schools because I'm looking at that endgame.
“I don't schedule people just because we've done it in the past. I couldn't give a rip about what people did in the past. When people say we should play Miami, Vinita, Locust Grove or whoever, that's not what my expectations are.”
Wagoner, which advanced to the Class 4A state semifinals last season, remains firmly rooted in the Week 2 slot. The Bulldogs ripped Pryor 35-13 last year.
The Wagoner loss, and the shocking defeat at the hands of lowly Miami a week later, changed the course of the Pryor season. The Tigers switched their defensive format and did not lose again until Week 9, a one-point home loss to district champion Collinsville.
McAlester will be the furthest regular-season trip Freeman has taken his Tigers on since arriving in Pryor two seasons ago. It will likely be the toughest as well. The Buffaloes boasted Class 5A's second-best record and made it to the state title game before losing to unbeaten Guthrie.
The Tigers upset district favorite Claremore, 35-26, last season in a Thursday night game in October. With the latter's impending move out of the district and into Class 6A, the Zebras bumped 4A Catoosa from the Week 1 slot.
Pryor shut out the Indians, 24-0, in the 2013 season opener played at Catoosa.