The third time was not a charm when it came to Rejoice Christian’s travel plans over the upcoming holiday weekend.
In coach Brent Marley’s first five seasons at the helm, Friday marks the third time the Eagles have advanced to the Class A quarterfinal round of the postseason. Rejoice hit the road on the first two occasions, 2015 against Stratford and last season against Crossings Christian. Marley’s club will once again board a bus when the Eagles travel to Thomas the day after Thanksgiving.
No. 2-ranked Rejoice (12-0) and Thomas (9-3) will meet after each team hosted in the first two rounds of the playoffs. While the Eagles hold the higher ranking and better record, they will make the three-hour trek to western Oklahoma as the visitors because of where they sit in the OSSAA bracket.
A program no stranger to postseason success despite being in its infancy, Rejoice will take on the tradition-rich Terriers, one of the most accomplished small-school programs ever in the state. Thomas has made 61 playoff appearances with 10 state championships to its credit.
“It’s a tough place to play,” Marley said. “We know they’ve got a lot of tradition.”
Rejoice advanced to the quarterfinal round with wins over Hominy (42-19) and Wewoka (62-18). Thomas defeated Sayre in the first round, 41-6, then needed a monumental comeback to beat Minco, 47-45, last week. The Terriers rallied from a 38-14 deficit for the win.
Friday’s winner will advance to the state semifinals to take on either Ringling or Pawhuska, which would be played either Dec. 6 or 7.
In last week’s win over Wewoka, Nate Anderson racked up 216 rushing yards, scored five touchdowns on the ground and had an interception on defense. Quarterback Riley Walker ran for 102 yards and two scores for Rejoice.
Despite the lopsided final margin, the Eagles did face some adversity in the early stages. Wewoka, sparked by dynamic playmakers such as quarterback Kobey Stephens, gave Rejoice its first deficit of the season and trailed the Eagles just 21-12 at halftime.
“I think we played a little tight in the first half,” Marley said. “I told them in the locker room you’re not going to go in at halftime and it’s 45-0 every time. We’ve kind of gotten to where we expect that. But at this point in the playoffs, there are only good people left.”
Rejoice will be playing football past Turkey Day for the third time since 2015, the mark of a sustained playoff run Marley hopes becomes an annual tradition for the Eagles.
“One of our goals was to practice on Thanksgiving Day,” he said. “So here we are. It’s always good to do that. Once you start doing this, you kind of expect it.”