As the final seconds ticked down in the 2021 Oklahoma Class A high school football state championship game, Cashion football coach Lynn Shackelford tried to soak up the experience of winning his second straight title.
“I’ll tell you this, the biggest difference between winning it last year and this year, and I didn’t think about it until Saturday after the game; last year we were in the middle of all the COVID stuff and they wouldn’t let anyone on the field after the game,” remarked Shackelford. “We won and it was just us standing down there. There was no player interaction with parents until we walked out of the locker room 45 minutes after we won it.”
“This year as soon as the horn goes, it’s just a sea of people running onto the field,” added Shackelford. “You’re seeing all these elementary kids pour out onto the field and all the fans running out to celebrate with the team. It was really kind of surreal. It made you appreciate what it’s like to grow up in a small town and be a part of something with these kids. It was really special.”
Located 40 minutes northwest of Oklahoma City, Cashion and its population of about 800 people has turned out some quality high school football teams in the past decade. Along with the 2020 and 2021 title teams, the Wildcats finished second in Class A in 2014, 2015 and 2019.
“We have amazing support at Cashion, stated Shackelford. “We really do. Our administration is phenomenal. It’s everything you’d think small town high school football would be like.”
So, which is harder: winning the first title or defending it?
“They’re all hard,” said Shackelford with a laugh. “Any time you can win a state championship, especially back-to-back, it’s pretty special. It’s not easy to do, especially at our level, with low numbers and injuries.”
“I think it’s harder to repeat,” claimed senior quarterback Ben Harman. “After we won the first one, everyone wanted to give us their best shot.”
For Harman, winning back-to-back titles was the perfect ending to an outstanding high school career. He capped off his Wildcat tenure with 10,696 passing yards and 145 touchdowns.
“Honestly, it’s because I’ve had some really good guys that can catch it and get in the end zone,” said Harman of his eye-popping statistics. “I just had to get it to them.”
“There were new guys every year and they all stepped up and did a great job,” stated Harman. “This year, we returned pretty much our whole line.”
With two state titles to his credit, Ben can claim bragging rights over older brother, Matt, who was a four-year starter for the Wildcats from 2013-16. He threw for 11,208 yards and 142 touchdowns and reached the state finals twice.
The dynamic duo are the most statistically proficient sibling quarterbacks in Oklahoma high school football history. They’re both in the top five in career passing yards (Matt 4th, Ben 5th) and career touchdowns (Ben 2nd, Matt 3rd).
“Their mentalities are almost identical in the way they practiced and the way they communicated,” said Shackleford, who just completed his 18th season at Cashion. “Matt was bigger. He was thicker and taller. Matt started as a freshman rather than a sophomore like Ben. Both got thrown into the fire when they were young.”
“Ben is a phenomenal player,” added Shackelford. “He started since he was a sophomore and took us to the finals three years in a row. He’s gotten better every year that he’s been in the program. He’s one of those kids that works really hard at being a good quarterback. He wants to know why we do the things that we do, why are we trying to get the ball here in certain situations. He’s great to coach.”
Harman is happy he and his fellow senior teammates get to go out on top, but he’s also sad his high school football career is over.
“It’s a really weird feeling to know that it’s all come to an end,” admitted Harman. “We put in a lot of work in the summer and with practicing and everything, and now it’s over.”
Unfortunately for Shackelford, there isn’t another Harman waiting in the wings to take over at quarterback for the Wildcats.
“No, I wish,” said Shackelford with a chuckle. “I don’t know that I’m gonna make it long enough for them to have kids.”