Tahlequah Daily Press

November 9, 2012

Area teams couldn’t quite measure to opponents this season

By BEN JOHNSON
Sports Editor

— It’s time for a little accountability.

After all, you are a collection of hard-working Americans who deserve some straight-forwardness. The irony: it comes at the end of a national election week, which will likely alter our great country for another four years.

Whether all the national, state and local candidates will be honest and up front with you is still debatable, but I think we can all agree that we’re all debated-out.

No more. Save ‘em for another four years down the road.

No, I’m here to show my willingness to admit when I’m wrong. Hopefully you find that a little refreshing, because it’s a lost quality in the world we live in now.

The topic: high school football.

Sadly, the regular season is over and we’re on the doorstep of a zany five-week stretch of football. No more battling for playoff positioning; it’s now win or pack up and try again next year.

In these parts, we have only one postseason participant. Full disclosure: by “these parts,” I’m encompassing Tahlequah, Keys, Sequoyah and Hulbert. If you want to get technical, Fort Gibson, Wagoner, Muskogee, Hilldale, Locust Grove and Stilwell are all somewhat “area” teams, but not when it comes to this column.

In mid-September I provided you with my predictions how I thought the district races would play out for the four local teams. Turns out, my crystal ball was a bit murky that day. Or, perhaps I was just a tad bit too optimistic.

Let’s go team by team and reveal just how clueless I was that day.



• Tahlequah

I predicted the Tigers would challenge for a playoff spot while finishing 3-7 overall and 3-4 in District 5A-4.

The real result: Tahlequah was 1-9 and 1-6.

Ouch.

The pre-district prediction was predicated on the fact that I thought 5A-4 was a bit down this year.

Wrong!

District 5A-4 proved to be the best district in 5A football. District 5A-2 could put forth a decent argument, but the bottom half of that district would get pulverized by the 5A-4 bottom-feeders.

This was another season in which Tahlequah couldn’t measure up to the premier clubs in 5A-4. Those being East Central, Claremore, Collinsville and Coweta — which combined to beat Tahlequah, 159-28. For those of you bad at math, that’s 131 points from playing even — even! — with those teams.

“I would agree with (5A-4 being the toughest district in 5A-4),” Tahlequah coach Brad Gilbert said. “But, I am biased. It’s a tough challenge for us every week.”

Now, in fairness, Tahlequah held its own during the first five weeks of the season, save for a stinker at Rogers (Ark.). The Tigers hung with teams like Fort Gibson, Sallisaw and Claremore while almost running Grove off the field.

But then came the Coweta game in Week 6. That game flipped Tahlequah’s season on its head.

I’ll never forget the scene in the Tahlequah locker room after that game: players limping on their way out, some reporting to Gilbert that “this” or “that” was going to be looked at by a doctor and even one player opted to show me his busted-up and bloodied knuckle on his hand.

“We suffered injuries early in that game and the injuries to those guys were tough to overcome,” Gilbert said.

At that point, the Tigers were toast. The lack of quality depth reared its ugly head, and Tahlequah (which managed to hang tough with Central the next week) staggered toward the finish line and missed the playoffs for the 11th straight year.

I had higher hopes for this Tiger team. But playing a full four quarters was a problem for this club.

And there’s really no good way to explain why that was such a problem.

On a positive note, this Tahlequah team will now be known as the team that possessed one of the best tailbacks in school history, because Mason McMillan is now holds the record for most rushing yards in a season.

McMillan broke the old record by three yards and now has set the new rushing bar at 1,241 yards.

“Couldn’t have happened to a better guy,” Gilbert said of McMillan. “He did what we asked him to do, and he’d even run the scout team tailback in practice, just because he wanted to.”

Tip of the cap to Mason, for sure. And, of course to the blockers in front of him.

I said offensive firepower was a strength of Tahlequah’s after three weeks, and hey, at least I was right about that. And there’s no doubt in my mind that Tyler Eisensmith will likely go down as one of the most under-appreciated football players in all of 5A this season. The kid was a pleasure to watch and to know that he played the final four games of the season with an ankle fracture makes me appreciate him that much more.

I sure hope someone gives him a chance to prove himself at the next level.



• Keys

I had the Cougars polishing off a 5-5 campaign this season while still enjoying a playoff berth in 3A-7.

Well, lookie there, I was pretty much on the money. The Cougars conjured up a 6-3 record overall and 5-1 in 3A-7.

Of course, that’s after you factor in Sequoyah’s forfeits (more on that later).

If you want to go by actual play on the field, Keys was 5-4 overall and 4-2 in 3A-7. Yes, Keys only enjoyed nine regular season games after Checotah cowardly called off a non-district game in Week 2 because the field was too wet after a rainstorm hit during halftime.

I’ll never understand that one. But, that’s neither here nor there.

The Cougars are still alive and looking to prolong their season in the 3A playoffs. Keys takes on Spiro this week with Metro Christian almost undoubtedly waiting in the second round.

We’ll focus on Keys another time since it has earned the right to have its own column after being the area’s best team (well, after OSSAA sanctions, anyways).



• Sequoyah

OK, we’re back to me being wrong here.

I had Sequoyah stumbling at some point during district play and it never happened. The Indians boasted a 9-1 mark overall — well, that was before the OSSAA stripped away all of the Indians’ wins, making them 0-10.

It’s a shame Sequoyah isn’t in the 3A playoffs this year. The Indians were primed to kick down the door on their first-round playoff problems. They were loaded at every position on the field. You name it, they had a solid player at that particular spot on the depth chart.

Yet, Sequoyah is cast to the sidelines for this year’s postseason after a diabolical last couple of weeks. One hour players are ineligible, the next they’re in court and able to play, thanks to a court injunction. Then, they’re told not to play against Lincoln Christian in Week 10 and do so anyways. Then the players get their eligibility back for other sports from the OSSAA.

A whirlwind indeed. (And who knows, it may not be over.)

I had no doubt in my mind that the Indians could have been a 3A quarterfinalist — at the least — this season. But it was not to be.

Time to hit the books — rule books, that is — and try again next year.



• Hulbert

Ehhhh, I’ll admit I was wrong about Hulbert, too.

Had the Riders at .500 (5-5), yet the Riders only mustered three wins in their move up to 2A.

Two wins in the final three weeks of the season were great, but they came a little late after Hulbert’s playoff chances had been all but trashed. But hey, at least that’s momentum to hold on to for eight months.

Another killer for the Riders was a nagging ankle injury to quarterback Chris Vance. A healthy Vance probably guides Hulbert to a win or two more; after all, he is the most dynamic weapon in the Riders’ run-heavy offense.

Graduation will take a chunk out of Hulbert’s roster, but coach Mitchell Crittenden has the program headed in the right direction.

Need proof?

He said it after Hulbert’s 46-26 trouncing of Ketchum in Week 10.