It was a season to remember for Empire football.
The Bulldogs hosted a playoff game for the first time since 1989, won their first playoff game since 1991, beat Velma-Alma for the first time in 17 years, and overcame several injuries and setbacks to get it done.
It was a year of success that Empire coach Tony Roberts expected as the season began.
“This was the year we were counting on to make some noise,” he said. “We proved we were worthy of what we had done.
“Nearly 25 years had gone by since we had this much success.”
The Bulldogs’ success this season was the main reason why Roberts was named The Duncan Banner 2013 All-Area Football Coach of the Year.
Roberts, though, would rather credit to his assistant coaches for how far the Bulldogs came this season.
It was a coaching staff that is relatively new to Empire. Jason Allensworth has the longest tenure at five years. Jacob Smith is in his second year, while Stefan Hunt and Michael Barnes just started this year.
Regarding Hunt, who coached the offense, Roberts said, “Me and him started to gel about week five or week six. At first, I’d talk to him and he’d talk to me about plays, but then he started calling the plays on my mind.”
Then there was the Empire senior group — 10 players who all played a key role in the program’s success.
Roberts noted that Gunnar Leseny “never missed a practice, never missed a workout, and only missed school when he was sick or when he had surgery for his knee injury.” Leseny mostly played special teams and missed much of the seaon because of that knee injury.
The Empire coach could rattle off a long list of the special contributions his seniors made. There was the interception Dakota Bilbrey had to seal the win against Velma-Alma. There was Cooper Hill, who led the team in interceptions as a freshman and remained integral to the receiver and defensive back groups.
He talked up Cole Bridges, who played fullback but mostly blocked.
“He didn’t have many carries, even when Stephen Price was out,” Roberts said, yet Bridges embraced his role.
There was Price, of course. The senior linebacker and running back missed several games with a broken foot, yet made plenty of big plays during the time he took the field.
Roberts had just as much praise for his senior linemen: Trey Skiles, Jacob Wilson, Ashtin McLaughlin, Zach Rivera and David Couch. Roberts noted that Skiles “fought his guts out,” not missing a game despite dealing with a broken hand and an ankle sprain during the season.
“Every one of those seniors contributed in some form or fashion to help us be what we were,” Roberts said.
Those 10 seniors will graduate in May. Roberts knows the Bulldogs will have a tough task ahead next season, but he has some quality players who will return. At the same time, Roberts said, they will have to work hard if they want to continue their success.
“When you have 10 kids graduate, you know that you are going to have a rebuilding year,” he said. “We will have to work hard in the offseason to get to where we need to be.
“I think we’ll be a playoff team against if we keep working hard. We’ll have to see how the young kids will develop.”
What has truly allowed Empire to succeed, the coach said, is that the players have “great attitudes” and a desire to get better. When they watched footage of the loss to Ringling Oct. 25, they never dwelled on anything and wanted to improve, Roberts said. After watching the film of the second-round playoff loss to Hollis, Roberts said players spent more time talking about the things they could have done differently, rather than looking for somebody to blame. Their attitude was no different following the Sept. 20 loss to Dibble.
“I don’t know if there was anything we could have done differently to prepare,” Roberts said regarding the losses. “I thought the game plans were good. We just got beat by the better team that day of those three losses.”
But those three losses took nothing away from a great season. Roberts said he has been happy with the way the Bulldogs have progressed in the five seasons he has been their head coach. It’s that progress that makes him enjoy what he does.
“These are the reasons you coach — to see kids grow,” Roberts said. “They were good at what they did and they’ll be good at what they will do when they graduate.”
It was a season to remember for Empire football.
Demon golfers compete at Lincoln Park
The Duncan boys golfers competed at a tournament at Lincoln Park Golf Course in Oklahoma City Thursday.
Individual scores were Blake Graham with 76 and 79, Logan Harris with 76 and 75, Tyler Albin with 77 and 78, Christian Dructor with 78 and 86, and Carson Hogstad with 80 and 83.
Track teams head to Norman
The Duncan track athletes travel to Norman today for a meet at the University of Oklahoma.
Duncan boys coach Todd Ledford said that the Demons will be one of just three Class 5A teams attending. The rest of the teams are 6A.
Demon baseball beats Plainview in extra innings
The Duncan baseball team had to go extra innings and then hold off a late rally to win at Plainview 3-2 Thursday.
The game was tied 1-1 after seven innings. The Demons broke the tie with two runs in the top of the eighth, but Plainview battled back to make it 3-2 in its half of the inning.
More home tourney action awaits Demons
Another weekend of home matches await the Duncan tennis teams.
The BancFirst Tournament will be at the Duncan High School tennis courts, with the girls playing Friday and the boys Saturday. The tourneys come one week after Duncan hosted the Southern Oklahoma Invitational.
Bulldog pitching staff builds confidence
Heading towards the postseason, Empire is closing in on the possibility of winning record thanks in large part to its improvements on defense.
The Bulldogs (10-11) have cut down the errors from 10 or more a game to two or three a game. Coach Stefan Hunt said that’s led to the pitchers seeing some better results on the mound. Though, the pitchers have improved their game as well.
Demons in close district race
The Duncan baseball team is in a close race to finish in the top four in District 2-5A and earn a trip to regionals.
Duncan is 7-3 in district and in third place. First-place Carl Albert has lost just one district game. The Titans split with second-place Chickasha, which also split with Duncan.
Gayanich to play for Panhandle State
Velma-Alma senior Jaz Gayanich signed Wednesday to play basketball for Oklahoma Panhandle State University in Goodwell.
Gayanich said Panhandle coach Jerry Olsen was upfront about his program and ideas, compared to other coaches Gayanich visited. Gayanich already knows what role he’s expected to play.
Those who knew John Humphrey respected him
Duncan resident Rod Battles got to know John Humphrey pretty well.
Battles first played Duncan High School baseball for Humphrey in 1965. He later returned to DHS, when Humphrey hired him as an assistant, and later head baseball coach. After both men retired, they became fishing buddies. Humphrey joined Battles and others for annual trips to Lake Texhoma.
Comets stay calm under pressure
Lately, Velma-Alma baseball has made a habit of having some exciting finishes.
In its home tournament, the Jake Leffler Wooden Bat Tournament, last weekend, it won four of five games. All of those victories came by less than five runs and two of them were by only one run.
Course challenges Lady Demons
The Duncan girls golf team took sixth at the longest course it has played this year.
KickingBird Golf Course is 5,300 yards. Add the windy conditions at the tournament hosted by Edmond Santa Fe and it made for a challenging day.
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- Demon golfers compete at Lincoln Park