By Collin Wieder
Photo of Laverne's Felix Teal from Felix Teal's Twitter page
Friday's Class B semifinal matchup in Weatherford sees two vastly different journeys for Laverne and Velma-Alma, but both have found its strengths at the right time.
The 7 p.m. Friday night contest at Southwestern Oklahoma State University showcases two physical, efficient teams with a lot of history. The programs have combined for six state titles and seven state runners-up trophies.
Both head coaches are alums of their respective teams. Matt Cox for Laverne and Randy Norton for Velma-Alma have finished as state champs and state finalists as coaches and players in their hometowns. They respect the tradition that comes into this high-profile, 8-man battle.
The No. 2, defending state champion Tigers rolled through the regular season en route to an 11-1 mark, dropping only one game, a 40-38 nail-biter to fellow semifinalist, No. 4 Seiling (12-1).
Laverne dominated the first two rounds, before beating Weleetka in the quarterfinals, 30-26, to reach the semis.
Unranked Velma-Alma (10-3) took a different path but quickly adjusted.
The Comets lost three of their first five contests. However, once district play started, they found their way. They’ve won eight straight, capturing the district title, cruising through their first two postseason games and then reaching the final four by taking down undefeated, No. 5 Regent Prep, 40-26, in the quarterfinals.
They’re led by an exciting, two-way, sophomore star in quarterback/middle linebacker Mikey Griffith. The second-year player leads the team in passing (1,359 yards, 20 TDs, three INTs) and rushing yards (1,533) on offense, and he averages 8.5 yards per offensive play.
He also leads the defense in tackles (95) and interceptions (five) as well.
Griffith is a force by himself, but the team also features star-studded skill players around him. Senior running back Tucker Oliver averages almost 10 yards per carry and leads the team in rushing TDs (22). He’s another 1,000-yard rusher to keep an eye on.
When they go to the air, senior wideout Crue Garrett boasts the majority of the team’s pass-catching production (44 catches, 755 yards, nine TDs).
Cox is in his first year as head coach of Laverne, but has been on the staff for quite some time. He sees a very similar team to his own - a squad that can punish and out-execute its opponent.
“It’s going to be a really good test of our physicality,” Cox said. “They like to play the same way that we do; pound the ball, play solid defense and control the clock.
"They’ve kinda revamped after the first four or five games. They pared down their offense and simplified it and are just running the ball right at people. They’re really good at it; it’s a good challenge for our guys.”
This game is a true strength versus strength matchup. Similar to the Comets, Laverne has its own sensational sophomore in Felix Teal.
Norton went on to say Teal is probably the fastest kid his team has seen all year. Norton is focused on containing Teal, because he’s capable of breaking off an explosive play off at any point. The Comets' coach wants to force the Tigers into more passing situations, which they aren’t as comfortable with.
Teal is a do-it-all athlete, lining up at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, return man and defensive tackle. He’s accounted for more than 3,000 yards and 50 TDs.
“We’re excited for Friday,” Norton said. “We’ve met up with Laverne in the past back when we were both 11-man years ago. They’re really well-coached, a really physical team and have a quarterback with a ton of speed.
"They play really good defense, which this time of the year you’d expect everyone to be good at everything. We’re excited to be there; we’re going to give it our best shot and see if we can win it.”
Beyond the jack-of-all trades athlete in Teal, freshman running back Wyatt Tillery is the team’s leading receiver and second-leading rusher, accounting for nearly 1,400 yards of total offense and 20 TDs. He’ll be quite a handful himself as will the team’s defense that allows just 18 points per game this season.
The upperclassmen trio of senior defensive end Kaiden Knight, junior linebacker Tayte Dome and senior cornerback Carson Lovell lead the team at all three levels.
They’ll be tasked with trying to induce chaos into a Comets’ offense that has turned over the ball just once in the last seven games.