By Christian Potts
Metro Christian photo by Sadie Rucker
State football championship tradition shines in the trophy cases at both Tulsa Metro Christian and Oklahoma City Heritage Hall.
And one of the schools will add to their storied histories this week, as the teams square off for the Class 3A state championship at 7 p.m. Thursday at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.
Many members of a deep senior class at Metro already have held the gold ball, as the Patriots claimed the 2019 and 2020 championship in Class 2A.
Heritage Hall hasn't won a state title since 2018, but the Chargers have seven total championships, four of them coming since 2014. So the young men on the Chargers' side are well aware of the tradition they represent each time they put on their jersey.
Heritage Hall coach Brett Bogert scored his 100th career coaching victory in the Chargers' 41-20 semifinal win against Verdigris. He followed his father, Andy, as the school's head coach, continuing a long run of excellence that began in the 1990s under Rod Warner and later Tracy Holland.
"So essentially, we have the same continuity for the last 20-plus years," Bogert said. "It was easy for me to transition in and be the head coach.”
Each team has looked the part of a championship contender all season.
Metro was the only Class 3A squad to traverse through the regular season undefeated at 13-0. And save a hard-fought 35-31 road win against 4A power Poteau on Sept. 9, the Patriots were able to win decisively each week, capturing the rest of their games by an average margin of 31.8 points per game.
Heritage Hall was pushed hard the first two weeks, a 35-28 victory against an Oklahoma City Millwood squad still alive in the 2A playoffs, followed by a 28-7 defeat to defending Class 4A state champion Clinton.
Since then, the Chargers have been almost untouchable in running to a 12-1 record.
No opponent from District 3A-2 came within three touchdowns of the Chargers, and they've outscored opponents by an average of 33.4 points per game during their current 11-game winning streak, wrapping up a ninth consecutive district championship along the way.
Both teams have saved some of their best for the playoffs.
Heritage Hall followed a 42-14 win against Anadarko by running over visiting Stigler, 55-23, in the quarterfinal round. Then last week, the Chargers took down District 3A-4 champion Verdigris, playing as complete a game as they have all year against a formidable and experienced opponent.
Metro started its postseason run with a decisive 41-14 win against Pauls Valley, then faced back-to-back challenges from fellow Tulsa private schools in Cascia Hall and Lincoln Christian. But they passed each test with flying colors, first rolling past the Commandos for the first time ever in five meetings of the schools by a 49-19 count.
Then last week, the Patriots also got their first-ever win against the two-time defending state runner-up Bulldogs, 49-35, eliminating the team many thought looked like the favorite coming into this year's postseason. In a season filled with impressive wins in a 13-0 run, this one might well have been the best of them all so far.
"We have an unbelievable amount of respect for Lincoln and their program and kids," Metro coach Jared McCoy said of the semifinal victory.
This game will feature star power all over the field, starting at quarterback.
Heritage Hall junior Andy Bass has piled up more than 700 yards of total offense and accounted for 10 touchdowns - six passing and four more on the ground - in just the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds alone. He's gaining more and more acclaim as a quarterback to watch in the class of 2024.
Metro counters with senior and multi-year starter Kirk Francis, who has been a touchdown-throwing machine. Francis tallied five more TD passes as part of a 452-yard passing night against Lincoln to add to his whopping season total of 53.
"He's the best quarterback in the state," senior teammate Tagg Campbell said of Francis. "He just brings the intensity to practice every day and then to game nights. He's such a great leader."
There is much more to both squads than just their outstanding signal-callers.
The Chargers' River Faulkner was named District 3A-2 player of the year. He's a factor all over the field, rushing for more than 1,000 yards while also making big plays on the defensive side of the ball at linebacker.
Metro has a corps of receivers snagging passes from Francis, as sometimes as many as eight to 10 players will catch a pass during a game. The leaders are seniors Breck Nauman, who had 261 receiving yards and three scores against Lincoln Christian, as well as Campbell and Mario Darrington, who like Faulkner plays both ways, lining up at the two cornerback spots on defense.
And as with any team still playing this time of year, the big men on both teams regularly have controlled the line of scrimmage in most situations. That matchup in the trenches may ultimately be the most pivotal key on Thursday night.
This year's title game continues a trend where private school programs at the 3A level have been dominant in recent years.
Tulsa Holland Hall and Lincoln Christian faced off in the 2020 and 2021 title games. Lincoln Christian won the 2019 title and Heritage Hall captured the 2018 crown.
These two combatants have 25 wins in 26 games between them this year, on top of all the tradition from recent years. But now it's down to 48 minutes to see who lifts a gold ball late Thursday night in Edmond.
"It all goes back to those days in the summer, running all those sprints and everything, and now it all comes down to this," said Metro's Darrington.