By BEN JOHNSON
Coweta certainly left its mark on Tahlequah in Week 6.
Following its 54-0 loss to Coweta, Tahlequah looked like a bruised and battered team in the postgame locker room. Few players left without a hobble in their step.
But, with a few days of rest, Tahlequah’s roster got a shot of rejuvenation with another District 5A-4 game on tap Friday night against Central at Booker T. Washington’s S.E. Williams Stadium.
“We’re healthier,” Tahlequah coach Brad Gilbert said. “We’re not as healthy as we’d like to be, but that’s every team. We have some guys that’ll play through some pain.”
Count running back Mason McMillan as one of those guys. The senior tailback left last Friday’s game against Coweta with a hip injury in the first half and finished with only 45 yards of total offense on eight rushes and one catch.
Also suiting with injuries for Tahlequah is Brandon Conrad and Caleb Morton.
“Mason, Caleb and Brandon, as of now, will be playing,” Gilbert said. “They’re going to suit up and play and hopefully get after it.”
Gilbert added that offensive lineman Alex Rice will be a game-time decision, while wide receiver Tyler Eisensmith and offensive lineman Austin Robertson will be out.
However, having McMillan available provides Tahlequah with its potent running back, with Conrad adding a speed element out of the backfield or at a wide receiver spot.
“It helps us to get those two guys back,” Gilbert said of McMillan and Conrad. “But we were preparing as if we weren’t going to have them.”
With Eisensmith — quarterback David Dick’s favorite target — out, McMillan and Conrad could be called upon more often in the passing game. But Gilbert said wide receivers, Ben Lamb and Kourtland McMillan, will be called upon to ease the pain of Eisensmith’s absence.
“The two kids we’ll lean on in the passing game will be Kourtland McMillan and Ben Lamb,” Gilbert said. “We’ll also work in Will Carlile, as well.
“But we’re a run-oriented team, so that’s where it helps to have Mason and Brandon back.”
Luckily for Tahlequah, Central’s roster only features 29 players that suit up during varsity games. So the Tigers will likely not be out-manned.
Regardless, though, the final four weeks of the season become must-win games for Tahlequah, if it’s to make the playoffs. The Tigers are 1-2 in 5A-4 play, tied with Central for fifth and looking up at Claremore, Coweta, Collinsville, Pryor and East Central in the standings.
“It’s a game that we need to win,” Gilbert said. “Our goal (of making the playoffs) is still in front of us. If we can put four quarters together, we know we have a chance to win.”