Much of the outrage stemmed from the fact that similar situations in the past had resulted in forfeits, and on appeal, the board hadn't overturned them.
Had Guthrie been shown favoritism because it was undefeated and the Class 5A favorite?
Would the ruling open a can of worms in the future?
“Obviously, rules were changed midstream,” one commenter on NewsOK.com wrote the day that Guthrie was reinstated into the playoffs. “Either they violated the rules or they didn't. The player sitting out ... tells me they did violate.
“Apparently, Watkins has some pull with the higher ups.”
Watkins and his program took a PR hit. Long seen as a blue-collar, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps bunch, they are no longer looked at the same way by some folks in the high school sports world.
Even though Watkins doesn't get on the Internet message boards, some of his younger assistants did.
“There's some people saying that they'd better be checking you for Bluetooth,” they told him last fall.
“What is a Bluetooth?” he said.
The suggestion that he might try to communicate with his coaches on the sidelines and violate the terms of his suspension made Watkins laugh.
“I've still got a flip phone, for God sakes,” he said.
While Watkins heard nothing but support from other coaches, he knows everyone wasn't as positive. He even acknowledges that the episode may have tarnished his reputation in some people's eyes.
“If I did, I can live with that,” he said. “If the general public looks at that and just wants to think that Guthrie is a cheatin' group ... that's fine. You can't change perceptions. All you can do is be true to yourself.”
He pointed to the stadium scoreboard where Guthrie's state championship years are listed. That now includes last season's title.
“That's gratification enough for me,” he said, “knowing that we've been a part of three state championships.”
* * *
Rafe Watkins looked out of place in the stands.
Even though he clapped when Guthrie made a good play and stood when the Bluejays scored a touchdown during a 62-0 rout of Guymon, he mostly sat and watched the game quietly with his chin in his hand. When the moms and dads around him started high fiving, he didn't quite know what to do.
“I'm not used to all this screaming around here,” he joked as the stands filled around him last week. “These ladies get crazy through here. That first night ... they screamed and scared me to death.”
One of those ladies piped up.
“You love it up here,” she chided.
Everyone in Guthrie knows where he wants to be.
Even though Watkins has been able to be around his players and his assistants during the week — he praised them for the way they've carried on in his absence, winning all eight games without him — he hated being apart from them on Fridays.
“It's difficult because he loves what he does,” said Guthrie defensive coordinator Kelly Beeby, who took over the head coaching duties during games. “It's hard because this is the payoff for all the work we put in.”
Even with what this episode cost him, Watkins would do it all again. He'd throw himself at the mercy of the OSSAA court. He'd serve the suspension. He'd take the tarnish.
As long as his players had a chance to keep going, he'd make the tradeoff.
“I promise you, all the good coaches I know would've done the same thing,” he said. “If they could get their team in, they'd say, ‘Sit me down.' That's just a given. By no means was that a big thing to do.”
Now, he's ready to get back and move on.
“Last one?” a man decked out in Guthrie blue asked last week.
“Last one,” Watkins said.
“I'm tired of you bein' here, to be honest,” the man said, motioning toward Watkins' seat.
“Well,” Watkins said, “I am, too.”
MORE FROM NEWSOK
Class 5A No. 1 Guthrie (4-0) at Western Heights (0-4)
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Western Heights High School, 8201 SW 44, Oklahoma City
Scouting report: Guthrie QB Bryan Dutton has thrown for 482 yards and nine TDs and run for 321 yards and seven scores. ... Conner Howard has four interceptions for Guthrie. ... The 27 points Western Heights scored last week were 20 more than it had scored in any other game this season.