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."