WILSON — When asked that his Eagles are 1-8 on the season but occupy the fourth and final playoff spot in District B-4, first-year Wilson coach Eric Smith replied with a chuckle.
“It’s crazy,” he said. It’s crazy that you have to win only two games to get into the playoffs. But it’s the way it is set up.”
All the Eagles (1-8 overall, 1-3 B-4) need to do to qualify for the postseason is to defeat last-place Bray-Doyle (2-7, 0-4) Friday night at Skinny Stewart Stadium.
Playoffs and Wilson football haven’t exactly gone hand-in-hand. The last time the Eagles were in the postseason was 16 years ago in 2002. That year, the Winter Olympic Games were held in Salt Lake City, Utah. The New England Patriots shocked the St. Louis Rams 20-17 to take home their first Super Bowl Victory.
Wilson has yearned for a return to the glory days when it was competing for district titles and playoff berth on a year-in and year-out basis.
The Eagles experienced great success in 1992 and 1993 when they were back-to-back state quarterfinalists.
The program had its best season in 1944 when it was the Class B state runner-up and had all-stater Arthur O. “Skinny” Stewart scampering the field. Stewart was drafted by the Washington Redskins in 1951 and went on to play for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League in 1952.
Last year’s team broke a 13-game losing streak and was in playoff contention until the last few weeks.
Right now, the Eagles are one win away from being a participant in the playoffs.
“It’s been a rough ride,” Wilson senior quarterback Hunter Chapman said. “We haven’t been known for our football. We would like for it to change.”
Change is a word that has been used a lot around Wilson.
Last summer, they successfully petitioned the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association to move down from Class A to Class B.
The Eagles have a new head coach (Smith). They have seen players come and go. They have switched offenses to cater toward their strengths.
“Learning the eight-man game has kicked their butt,” Smith said. “The speed of it compared to 11-man, we just weren’t ready for it. I’m hoping that we get here in the weight room in the offseason and make some changes to some things and hopefully get it turned around.”
Then, there has been the issue of adjusting to new personnel.
Senior Sammy Schiralli can’t recall one game this season when Wilson has fielded the same starting lineup. About 40 percent of the team is playing high school football for the first time. Of the seven seniors on Wilson’s roster, only one has previous significant playing time to his credit.
“Way too much to count,” he said. “It’s always different.”
Fellow senior Maliq Raymond was late joining the team but is glad that he did.
“I’ve played football with these guys my whole life and I didn’t want to miss out on any of the action,” he said. “I want to be part of something that we can do which is to make the playoffs.”
As with any change comes a learning curve.
The learning curve has been steep.
Wilson lost eight consecutive games by double digits to the start the season all while Smith experimented with several lineups to see which combination would work the best.
“These guys are used to losing,” Smith said. “They’re used to mediocrity and things like that. Getting them to believe in themselves and believe they can win has been a battle for us coaches this year. And we haven’t got there yet. And it’s a process that is going to take some time here because we didn’t get into this mess overnight and we’re not going to out of it overnight.
“It will take some time but we’ll get there.”
For all of the bumps and bruises the Eagles have endured — both physical and mental — Wilson has stuck through all of the ups and down like a band of brothers.
“This is a great group of kids,” Smith said. “They’ll make you laugh when you want to cry and they make you want to pull your hair out on some things. But overall, it’s a great group of kids who have come together."
Chapman said he has seen significant progress from his Eagles teammates in each of the last two games. Two weeks ago, the Eagles posted a season-high 40 points in a 56-40 loss to Fox.
“Fox was the first game that we were playing both ways and as a team,” he said. “It helped.”
Everything finally clicked for Wilson last Friday.
Schiralli described the experience of defeating Ryan 48-12 for the team’s first win of the season as “The greatest feeling to have.”
“It felt good to go into practice coming off a win instead of a loss,” Chapman said. “It made a big difference.”
Chapman says he would experience a wide range of emotions should Wilson emerge victorious tomorrow and end its 16-year playoff drought.
“I feel like I’ll be nervous if we win Friday but I’ll be happy,” he said.