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Empire High School football coach Tony Roberts expects the battle for the top spots in District 4A to be a five-team race.
And the Bulldogs open district play Friday against one of those top contenders.
Empire (2-1) will head to Grady County to face Rush Springs (1-2). Although Rush Springs has lost two of its first three games, Roberts noted that Rush Springs faced Class 4A’s Elgin in its second game of the season. Elgin replaced Riverside Indian, which cancelled its season because of a lack of players.
Roberts said Rush Springs played a good schedule, similar to the competition Empire has faced. “We’re probably pretty even,” Roberts said regarding the teams’ pre-district schedules. “Dibble would probably be our Elgin.”
The Bulldogs’ first loss of the season came last week against Dibble. Empire was without its top running back and linebacker, Stephen Price, who was nursing a leg injury.
“He should be back and ready to go,” Roberts said, adding Price sat out the Dibble game because it was a non-district game and the coach wanted Price at full strength for district play. “He’s where he’s close to 100 percent and he’s ready to go,” Roberts said.
Rush Springs prefers to run the ball, Roberts said, and the team has a good quarterback, fullback and tailback who can all make big plays on offense.
“They struggled a little bit” in the first three games of the season, Roberts said, “but they still run the ball hard. The teams they played were all tough teams.”
On defense, Roberts said, Rush Springs utilizes its linebackers well and that the defenders “don’t make mistakes” and have good techniques.
For Empire, one of the areas Roberts wants to see improvement is in pass defense. And on offense, he wants the Bulldogs to continue running the ball well.
He noted Dillon Twigg “had to carry the ball 30 times” in last week’s contest against Dibble and he doesn’t want Twigg to take that many carries. Having Price back in the lineup will help, Roberts said.
But even without Price in the lineup last week, “we had opportunities but we just didn’t capitalize,” Roberts said. “We were down 22-20, then Dibble scored late.”
As far as the district goes, Roberts expects Velma-Alma, Healdton and Ringling to be among the other top contenders. The Comets will host Ringling Friday.
“A lot of things will probably be determined in the next couple of weeks,” Roberts said, “and who will likely be one, two, three and four.”