Two years ago, Keota finished third in its district and got knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by Fox.
Last year, the Lions were the district runner-up and lost in the second round on the road to eventual state champion Laverne.
This season, the Lions are seeking their first district championship in nearly 20 years and a deeper playoff run.
“Every year we seem like we are getting one step closer,” Keota coach Eric Henry said. “If we can stay healthy and the kids stay hooked up, we got a chance.”
Keota is the preseason favorite in District B-4 as the Lions return five starters on both sides of the ball including standout running back/linebacker Seth Bryant, (6-0, 180 pounds) who last year set a school record for yards rushing and touchdowns in a single season.
Bryant rushed for 2,088 yards and scored 40 touchdowns combined on offense and defense.
“We kind of feed off him,” Henry said of the senior.
Keota also returns junior starting quarterback Jace Welch (6-1, 185 pounds) who passed and ran for more than 1,400 yards and scored 30 touchdowns.
The key for Keota will be replacing three of four starters on the offensive and defensive lines. The only returning starter is center/defensive tackle David Henson (6-0, 250 pounds), a three-year starter.
Henry, though, said the Lions do have linemen returning with playing experience.
“We have some kids that got some playing time last year. They just didn’t start for us,” he said. “We got some kids in the backfield that might put some points on the board if we can get some other kids to help them out a bit.”
WETUMKA LOOKS TO RELOAD
Wetumka has been undefeated in district play the past two seasons and averaged more than 10 wins over the last four years.
But this year former Morris coach Larry Crenshaw takes over at Wetumka and gets the job of rebuilding the Chieftains. Wetumka returns just two starters.
“We are basically pretty close to starting all over,” Crenshaw said. “They (Wetumka) had a pretty group of athletes the last four years who started from the time they were freshmen.
“Wetumka lost nine seniors from last year’s squad and seven of them played in the eight-man all-state game. That tells you what kind of talent they had.”
Wetumka may lack experience, but the Chieftains have size. The Chieftains’ linemen range in size from 235 to 327 pounds, including three players weighing near or above 300 pounds.
“We’re huge upfront,” Crenshaw said. “We are definitely big enough not to get pushed around. If we do, it’s our fault.”
WELEETKA EYEING A PLAYOFF SPOT
Weleetka returns five starters on offense and six on defense, and coach Rodney Bencoma expects the Outlaws to improve on last season’s 5-5 record.
The Outlaws just missed making the playoffs last season, losing a 22-20 decision to Dewar in the final game of the season that cost Weleetka a playoff spot.
Bencoma expects big years from junior defensive end/offensive lineman Chance Hawkins (6-1, 210 pounds), son of former Weleetka coach and current athletic director Tony Hawkins, and senior fullback/linebacker Caleb Farrow (5-11, 210 pounds)
“Caleb is our emotional leader on defense,” Bencoma said. “He is a very violent player. He moves around a lot and like to tackle.”
DEWAR SQUAD COULD BE THE BEST SINCE RONNELL LEWIS DAYS
Dewar coach Josh Been thinks this year’s version of the Dragons could be better than the 2007 squad led by former Sooner Ronnell Lewis that lost to Morrison in the state championship game.
“We’ve got a lot more depth than we’ve had in a long time,” said Been, who has the luxury of platooning players in the offensive and defensive lines. “The big guys not having to go both ways really helps us.”
Dewar returns a starter at every position, led by junior twins Alan and Taylor Bentjen in the backfield. Alan is the quarterback and Taylor is the running back.
Taylor missed the preseason with a knee injury but should be ready for the season opener or at least by the second game, Been said.
Dewar also received some unexpected help upfront in the offseason with the transfer of 6-4, 290-pound Noah Porton from Northwest Classen.
Been said the 2014 Dragons are probably not as talented overall as the 2007 squad but “it’s really a good unit. As a team, I think we are probably a little better.”
Picked to finish first and second in the district in the preseason coaches’ poll, Keota and Dewar meet in the final game of the regular season at Keota ... New Wetumka boss Larry Crenshaw coached eight-man football before in Waukomis from 1987-94. ... Arkoma moves up to Class B after winning its first playoff game in school history last year. ... Caddo returns to playing eight-man football where it won the state championship in 2011 after spending the last two years in Class A and the 11-man game, going 3-6 each season. ... Canadian, which only has three seniors on the roster, also is returning to playing eight-man football after two seasons competing in Class A. ... Gans won 10 games three years ago but has had two straight losing seasons. ... Haileyville enters the season with a 23-game losing streak but is now playing eight-man football after six season in Class A. ... Porum will be led by senior running back Darren Bollman, who rushed for 2,032 yards and 31 touchdowns last season.
DISTRICT B-4 COACHES’ POLL
1. Keota (9-3)
2. Dewar (7-4)
3. Wetumka (11-1)
4. Caddo (3-6)
5. Weleetka (5-5)
6. Arkoma (8-4)
7. Porum (4-6)
8. Gans (2-8)
9. Canadian (1-8)
10. Haileyville (0-10)
*Last season’s record in parentheses