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.
Bronchos deliver big victory
No. 12 Central High kicked off its season in dominant fashion, winning 12-3 versus Elmore City-Pernell Friday.
The game was originally supposed to at Elmore City, but their fields were still damaged from the rainfall earlier this week. So the Bronchos hosted the matchup, but Central High coach Jeff Jones still allowed his opponents to be the home team.
Comanche opens with rivalry game
First-year head coach Brent Crow started out the first Comanche baseball practice of the year Saturday asking his players if it would be possible for them to come a half-hour early on Sunday.
The Indians have just two practices before they open up against No. 3 rival Marlow at home Monday, and Crow needs as much time with the players as possible. The players agreed to come at 1:30 p.m. instead of 2, but Crow knows getting ready for the Outlaws in two days will still be a tough task.
Demon track athletes tested right away
The Duncan boys track team placed seventh out of 20 teams at a meet in Norman Friday.
Those teams included last year’s Class 6A state champion Broken Arrow and runner-up Edmond Memorial, the top five teams at last year’s Class 5A state meet and defending 4A state champion Plainview.
Boys tennis ties for third at Ada
The Duncan boys tennis team tied for third at a tournament in Ada Friday.
The Demons and McAlester each scored 42 points, with Carl Albert and Deer Creek tying for second with 43 each. Heritage Hall won the tourney with 61.
Demons keep it close against Southmoore
The Duncan boys soccer team challenged a tough Class 6A Southmoore squad on the road, losing 3-0.
Duncan kept it scoreless for much of the first half, but gave up two late goals. Demon coach Marcus Williams said the team had a couple of mental breakdowns but played well overall.
10 players named Oilfield all stars
There will be 10 players representing Stephens County schools Bray-Doyle and Velma-Alma in the boys and girls Oilfield Conference All-Star games Monday night at 6:30 and 8 p.m.
Velma-Alma coach Kenny Bare will coach the girls game, which will include his own players Samantha Moore, Kaylie Keenan, Teddi Southerland, Ariah Johnson and Bita Humphreys. The players were selected by the eight conference coaches.
Comets can’t pull out upset
When Velma-Alma senior Conner Sullivan hit a halfcourt shot at the halftime buzzer to trim Glencoe’s lead, the Panthers, who had gone 57-1 in the last 58 games had to be thinking “oh no, here we go again.”
Comanche can’t close out Alva
It wasn’t the way No. 8 Comanche basketball wanted its season to end, but with a 64-62 loss to No. 10 Alva Thursday, the Indians headed home after the first round of the Class 3A area tournament.
Youth bowlers are state runners-up
Duncan’s high school bowlers took second at the state tournament.
Girls golfers second at Guthrie
The Duncan girls didn’t play under ideal conditions at the Guthrie tournament Thursday, but claimed second as a team.
- More Sports Headlines
- Bronchos deliver big victory