By BEN JOHNSON
Stanvon Taylor is no longer sporting an East Central uniform. For that, Tahlequah head coach Brad Gilbert is extremely grateful.
Taylor is now playing at the University of Oklahoma, so he won't be in red, white and black when the Cardinals take on Tahlequah tonight at the East Side Sports Complex in Tulsa at 7 p.m.
"When you lose the Gatorade Player of the Year from a year ago," Gilbert said, "that's a chunk out of your armor."
It certainly does.
The Cardinals have found life without Taylor and Deontre Youngblood tough at times. The Cardinals are still in the thick of the playoff race in District 5A-4, but they're sporting a 3-5 overall record and a 3-2 mark in district play. This time last season, East Central was 8-0 and virtually breezing through 5A-4 play.
Also, with Taylor gone on defense, the Cardinals are giving up more points to opposing teams. East Central is allowing 33 points per game in district play, including 55 last week in a loss to Collinsville.
"Losing players like (Taylor and Youngblood) is why they're not as good on defense," Gilbert said. "But they're still good."
As for Tahlequah (1-7, 1-4), the playoffs are no longer an option. It'll be another playoff-less season dating back to 2001.
Still, though, the Tigers are hoping to finish the season with at least three victories.
"We're still doing exactly what we've been doing," Gilbert said. "We, as coaches, haven't changed anything. We're focusing on the details and helping these guys become better football players."
With no postseason aspirations ahead, Gilbert was asked if playing younger players was an option to get ready for the 2014 season. Gilbert said that's not part of the plan this week or next week at home against Collinsville.
"We're wanting to finish strong, and we're wanting to give our seniors and the rest of these guys the best chance to win," Gilbert said. "Playing more underclassmen, we're not going to do that. They had their JV season as their opportunity. We want to give our seniors a chance to end their careers on a high note."
Tahlequah at East Central
When: 7 p.m.
Where: East Side Sports Complex at East Central High School.
Radio: KEOK, FM-102.1.
Nicknames: Tahlequah Tigers; East Central Cardinals.
Coaches: Tahlequah - Brad Gilbert (second second, 2-16); East Central - Bobby Klinck (second season, 12-10).
Records: Tahlequah 1-7 (1-4 District 5A-4); East Central 3-5 (3-2).
Rankings: Neither team is ranked in Class 5A.
Series record: East Central leads 4-3.
Last meeting: In 2012, East Central beat Tahlequah 42-0 at Doc Wadley Stadium. Stanvon Taylor, now at Oklahoma, had a touchdown pass and a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Tigers.
Last week: Pryor 41, Tahlequah 15; Collinsville 55, East Central 34.
News to know: Tahlequah was eliminated from postseason contention with its loss to Pryor last week. ... East Central needs to win to stay at least one game ahead of both Coweta and Central in the 5A-4 standings. The Cardinals are currently tied for third in the district, but lost to Claremore earlier in the season, thus making the Cardinals the fourth-place team. A loss for East Central could make things dicey with a road game at Pryor in Week 10. ... East Central has beaten Tahlequah the past two season by a combined score of 103-14.
Looking ahead: Tahlequah will close the season at home against Collinsville on Nov. 8, and East Central will play district leader Pryor.