By BEN JOHNSON
Not too long ago, Tahlequah was in a prime position in District 5A-4. The Tigers were coming off a 47-20 obliteration of Grove and were atop the 5A-4 standings.
Such is not the case anymore.
Now three games into district play, Tahlequah is looking up with five teams ahead of it in the league race. The Tigers have lost to two of those teams: Claremore and Coweta
Tonight at Doc Wadley Stadium, Central — a team below Tahlequah in the standings — arrives for a 5A-4 game during an abbreviated week. The winner will still have an uphill climb to the playoffs while the loser will all but have its playoff dreams dashed.
"It's a must-win every week for us," Tahlequah head coach Brad Gilbert said. "If we win three of the next four, we get in. But this is a must-win, and our kids know that."
Gilbert, with his team at 1-5 overall and 1-2 in 5A-4, wouldn't quite go as far as to say a loss would completely unhinge his team's aspirations.
"Not saying (this week) would be an elimination game for us," Gilbert said, "but we sure don't want to be in a spot where we have to win the last three."
Tahlequah is coming off a 32-13 setback at Coweta last week. The loss was hard to swallow, but the injuries suffered in the game make it that much harder.
Gilbert announced that defensive tackle Wesley Rivas would miss the rest of the season with a foot injury. The senior lineman had been dealing with foot pain all year, but had managed to play in the Tigers' first six games.
Tahlequah running back Brandon Conrad will also be limited against Central with a leg injury, and offensive lineman Charles Lamons will now be dealing with two ailing hands.
"BC (Conrad) will be able to play, but he won't be 100 percent," Gilbert said. "...We're beat up, but everybody is beat up at this point in the year, so that's life and we have to adapt and move on."
As for some analysis on Central (1-5, 0-3), Gilbert addressed the Braves' main offensive threat, Tulsa commit D'Angelo Brewer.
"He's an explosive player," Gilbert said of Central's senior quarterback. "He's not the only weapon, though. Their tailback No. 20 (Kejuan Johnson), is a really good player, too. So it'll be a tough combination."
Central at Tahlequah
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Doc Wadley Stadium.
Radio: KEOK, FM-102.1.
Nicknames: Tahlequah Tigers; Central Braves.
Coaches: Tahlequah (Brad Gilbert); Central (Don Gibson).
Records: Tahlequah 1-5 (1-2 District 5A-4); Central 1-5 (0-3).
Rankings: Neither team is ranked in Class 5A.
Series record: Tahlequah leads 4-3.
Last meeting: In 2012, Central beat Tahlequah 20-15. Gerald Hardridge rushed for 168 yards on 12 carries for the Braves.
Last week: Coweta 32, Tahlequah 13; Collinsville 20, Central 12.
News to know: The Tigers will be without defensive tackle Wesley Rivas for the rest of the season. The senior lineman suffered a season-ending foot injury in the loss to Coweta last week. ... Central has won the last three matchups with Tahlequah. ... The Tigers have lost five straight home games.
Players to watch
- Tahlequah: Colton Wright (RB).
-- With running back Brandon Conrad hobbled by two separate leg injuries, Wright could see the bulk of the carries at the tailback position. Wright has rushed for 380 yards on 56 carries so far this season.
- Central: D'Angelo Brewer (QB).
-- The Braves' quarterback does everything. He can throw and he can run. Last year against Tahlequah he had an 86-yard run for a touchdown. Once again this year, he'll be the focal point of Central's offense.
Looking ahead: Tahlequah will continue at home against Pryor, while Central will take on Claremore.