By Bruce Campbell
When Cherokee faces Tipton at noon today for the Class C state football title, it will appear not much has changed from last year’s championship game:
• Same undefeated teams — Cherokee (12-0) vs. Tipton (13-0)
• Same rankings from final AP poll — No. 1 vs. No. 2.
• Same site — Southwestern Oklahoma State’s Milam Stadium in Weatherford.
Fortunately for Cherokee, it’s also the same quarterback — Tanner Bowman.
Bowman has quarterbacked the Chiefs to a 24-0 record the past two seasons, including a 38-14 win over the Tigers in last year’s title game, in which he ran for 112 yards and three touchdowns.
Bowman also is the only quarterback to beat Tipton — which won the gold ball in 2012 — over the past three seasons.
“He does a tremendous job of keeping the guys level out there in the huddle,’’ said Cherokee head coach Bryce Schanbacher, who is going for his third state title in the last five years.
“He keeps them grounded. He knows what we’re capable of doing. As long as he is back there taking snaps, he’ll manage the game the way it needs to be.’’
Bowman has proven to be a good game manager, having scored 37 touchdowns, including 13 in the postseason, and has thrown for another 11 touchdowns for Cherokee’s high-powered offense. The Chiefs have scored 60 or more points in their three playoff wins.
Bowman rushed for 355 yards and five touchdowns and returned a kick 79 yards in Cherokee’s 68-50 win over Grandfield last week in the semifinals. Avery Bagenstos added 201 yards and three touchdowns.
Still, Schanbacher is concerned about Cherokee’s ability to run on Tipton.
“I haven’t seen anybody who has been able to run outside on them,’’ Schanbacher said. “They have two linebackers who can come up and fill the gaps and run side-to-side.’’
Tipton, which advanced to the finals with a 46-0 win over Fox, has allowed only 52 points this season.
Tigers head coach Travis White said team speed is Tipton’s biggest asset on defense, but is mindful of Bowman.
“We have to corral him,’’ White said. “He runs the ball well, but he throws it better than people think. We have to use our team speed in the back end to limit his big plays.’’
But the Tigers have a weapon of their own at quarterback in Gerald White, who has a strong arm and big play ability.
“They really like to throw it deep,’’ Schanbacher said. “All of their skilled positions can run. Speed kills and they have a lot of it.’’
“He throws the deep ball well,’’ said Travis White about his cousin Gerald. “We have run the ball more than we have passed because we have had such big leads.’’
Grandfield scored more points on Cherokee last week than the Chiefs allowed all last season (40), and rushed for 393 yards, much of that in a wild fourth quarter where the two teams combined for 50 points.
“They were able to spread us out and run outside where we didn’t have enough players to slow them down,’’ Schanbacher said. “We need to be more aggressive. We got a little tired.’’
Some of that might have been the fault of Cherokee’s offense scoring so fast. Grandfield ran 70 plays to the Chiefs’ 30.
“There were times we were going to try to run some clock, but after two plays Tanner or Avery would go through untouched,’’ Schanbacher said.
Cherokee will again be without standout running back Austin Guffy, who is injured.
The Chiefs delivered a quick knockout in last season’s title game, scoring the contest’s first 24 points, outgaining the Tigers 466-214.
But both Schanbacher and White downplay any revenge factor.
“In the championship game, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you’re going to be gunning for them,’’ Schanbacher said.
“There’s a gold ball on the line,’’ White said. “We’re not looking at it as they beat us last year. They are a really good football team, and we’re excited to be back in the championship game with a chance to compete for the gold ball.’’
The game can be heard on KXLS (95.7 FM).
Cherokee vs. Tipton
Kickoff: Noon today, Milam Stadium, Weatherford
Records: Cherokee 12-0, Tipton 13-0
Ranking: Cherokee, No 1; Tipton No. 2
Playoff History: Cherokee leads 2-0
Last meeting: Cherokee 38, Tipton 14, 2013
Radio: KXLS (95.7 FM)