FOX — There's plenty to be thankful for. Fox coach Brent Phelps made sure to let everyone know in attendance Tuesday.
He's proudly gotten the opportunity to reinstitute another tradition this season. For most schools, Thanksgiving symbolizes a transition from football to basketball. That's just a matter of attrition — not everyone can be a state semifinalist.
This year, however, Fox has earned that right. Fox (12-0) gets a shot at Pond Creek-Hunter (11-1) in the Class B semis on Friday, but before that, Phelps had the opportunity to bring his players and their families together for a Thanksgiving dinner at Fox High School on Tuesday.
It's a longstanding tradition Phelps started the last time Fox had a successful run of teams in the early 2000s. It was then that the Foxes last made the state semifinals or a state championship.
"We did this both years we got to the finals — we got to the semifinals the week of Thanksgiving," Phelps said. "We've got a lot to be thankful for — thankful for these kids, thankful for family. We are family. That's one thing about this community and these kids."
He's thankful he can bring them together again, blessed that his players have bonded together after Fox graduated six seniors from last season's 10-2 team.
The players? They're thankful for another chance to prove people wrong and continue to improve. Junior middle linebacker Jerry Mitchell talked of how many people thought there would be a drop off after Fox lost several key players from the 2011 squad. He thinks the Gold Ball is the only way the Foxes will be satisfied with a season in which they've already reached unforeseen heights.
Believe it or not, the Foxes think their best game is still out there.
"I'm not real happy with it; I know we can do better," junior lineman Deaunta Winslett said of the first two playoff games. "We have a chance to go into state and win it, and I know we can do it."
Junior quarterback Taylor Townsend said the team wasn't at its best in its 28-22 first-round squaker over Merritt, but pulled together against Keota last week in a 52-32 victory.
"The first game, we played like we was in week 1 again," Townsend said. "The second week was a little bit better, and we were starting to understand what it feels like to be here.
"If we do things right and execute, I'll feel pretty great. They're (Pond Creek-Hunter) a big, physicial team that comes from a good district, but we just have to go play ball the way we know how."
Pond Creek-Hunter enters as the favorite to advance to the state championship, but like Fox, have shown some cracks in the postseason. Pond Creek-Hunter narrowly beat Wetumka 41-40 last week in the quarterfinal round.
Page 2 of 2 - The Panthers, District B-1 runners-up to state favorite Laverne, have a stout running game led by Brady Krittenbrink, who found the end zone four times last week against Wetumka.
Phelps said the Foxes will be outweighed up front as usual, but it won't effect the team going into the biggest game of the season, the biggest game for the Foxes in quite some time.
"Sizewise, we're smaller than they are just like we've been with both teams the last two games," Phelps said. "They're more of an experienced team, but we've got 12 games under our belt.
"We don't mind being the underdog. We've surprised everyone that didn't expect us to go this far."
That's what Fox is most thankful for — the opportunity to play another week. That means getting to be around each other and to provide the state with another look at the unification of a community.
"Everybody keeps showing up and it makes us play better," senior receiver/safety Keaton Argo said of the team support. "All the support really helps. I didn't think we would be here."
Erik K. Horne