Bob Stoops and his coaching staff have their work cut out for them.
Sure, the Sooner coaches have to game plan for six more games this season, but that’s not it. No, Stoops and Co. will be hard at work once Stanvon Taylor arrives on campus.
After all, the Sooners have to figure out where to play Taylor — a 5-foot-11, 170-pounder who can play every position for East Central.
Taylor played the role of ombudsman for the third-ranked Cardinals on Friday night as East Central rolled to a 42-0 victory over Tahlequah at a frigid Doc Wadley Stadium. Taylor caught a touchdown pass, went the length of the field on an interception return, played quarterback and even got in a few punts for the Cardinals (5-4, 5-1 District 5A-4).
“He’s OK,” East Central coach Bobby Klinck said sarcastically about Taylor. “No, he’s a heck of a football player. What I love about him is he’s on the sideline pointing at one of his teammates saying, ‘hey, hit him on the slant and you’ll get a touchdown.’ He understands that he’s a big player for us, but he also understands his role as a team leader. He’s such a pleasure to coach.”
Taylor, though, wasn’t alone in the play-making department. Deontre Youngblood had some highlights of his own.
The senior wide receiver/defensive back did most of his heavy lifting when Tahlequah punted the ball to him, averaging 83.5 yards per punt return. And it was his 82-yard return late in the first quarter that got the scoring barrage started.
“Well, the ball had bounced over my head and I didn’t want it to bounce too far in our own territory, so I had to pick it up and do the best I could,” Youngblood said of his first punt return of the game. “My teammates threw some blocks for me, and I just did the best I could.”
Youngblood — who ran the ball twice for 15 yards and caught two passes for 26 yards — wasn’t done, though. He added an 85-yard punt return — having to navigate from one side of the field to the other to follow some blockers — for a touchdown in the third quarter to cap off his evening.
“Deontre is one of those guys that will do anything,” Klinck said of Youngblood, who also had an interception on defense. “He’s a star player, but he wants to get better. He wants to be coached hard, and he understands that things we’re saying to him will help him in his career.”
Together, Taylor and Youngblood were a nightmare for Tahlequah in the return game, combining for 208 yards on three punt returns.
Not bad, considering that was an area where Klinck wanted to upgrade this week.
“That was one of the things we wanted to work on and get better at,” Klinck said, “and the guys did a good job of executing.”
Tahlequah coach Brad Gilbert conceded that the Tigers (1-8, 1-5) were ill-prepared to shut down the Cardinals in the return game.
“The Youngblood kid is very dangerous with the ball in his hands, especially in open space,” Gilbert said. “We kicked it to him too many times.”
East Central was able to capitalize on punt returns because its defense didn’t allow Tahlequah any long, sustained drives. The Tigers had only 27 yards of total offense at halftime, and by the end, that number only inflated to 101 — with most of that coming after East Central pulled its starters on defense late in the third quarter.
“We hadn’t been playing the best defense, we didn’t think,” Taylor said of past defensive showings. “So we wanted to come out and get the best defensive performance we could tonight. And we were good tonight; everyone was there and keyed in.”
For Tahlequah, Mason McMillan, the Tigers’ leading rusher this season, was held in check all night. In front of a light crowd of 800, McMillan recorded only 48 yards on 21 carries.
“(East Central) is where they’re at for a reason,” said Gilbert, whose club only completed one pass (out of 12 attempts). “Offensively, we just couldn’t get anything going, whether it was running or throwing the football.”
East Central’s offense wasn’t prolific, but the Cardinals were efficient after two fruitless possessions to begin the game. The Cardinals’ first offensive touchdown — which came 34 seconds after the Cardinals’ opening TD, thanks to East Central recovering the ensuing kickoff — was the result of Taylor catching Trevaughn Cherry’s pass near the line of scrimmage and eluding Tahlequah defenders along the boundary before finding the end zone.
Cherry, then, got in on the scoring act, plunging into the end zone for a 1-yard run to give the Cardinals a 22-0 edge with 7:55 left in the second quarter.
Tahlequah would end up with a scoring chance right before intermission, but Taylor squandered those hopes in a flash.
After Tahlequah came up with a blocked punt, the Tigers set up shop at East Central’s 15-yard line. However, quarterback David Dick heaved a pass toward the front-left pylon, and there was Taylor waiting to snatch the ball out of the air.
“That was deflating right before halftime,” Gilbert said. “If we get some points on the board, we get the ball coming out in the second half and things could have been different.”
Instead of Tahlequah cutting into the Cardinals’ lead, Taylor took the ball 100 yards the other way and East Central would wind up leading 28-0 at intermission.
Taylor said it was the longest interception return of his career.
“My longest one was like 70 at the beginning of last year,” said Taylor, who then described what he saw in front of him once he caught the interception.
“I just saw a touchdown. I told myself, ‘I’m going for it here.’”
Prior to Taylor’s interception, he had taken over Cherry’s duties at quarterback. Taylor was inserted as the Cardinals’ signal caller when Cherry landed wrong on his arm after being sacked by Tahlequah’s Dakota James. Taylor didn’t complete a pass in two attempts, but he did finish the game with 167 all-purpose yards while averaging 30.2 yards on five punt attempts (with one of those going for no yards after being blocked).
“I just do whatever (the team) needs me to do,” Taylor said. “...I feel comfortable being out there wherever I am. I’m just trying to make plays wherever I’m at, whether it’s on offense or defense.”
In the third quarter, Youngblood posted his second punt return for a touchdown to give East Central a 35-0 advantage.
Then, it was William Goree’s turn to get involved in the Cardinals’ offense. The senior tailback, East Central’s leading rusher this season, carried the ball 52 yards — while slipping through the arms of a handful of Tahlequah defenders — for East Central’s final TD of the night.
Goree finished with 70 yards on nine carries, while East Central recorded 186 yards of total offense (93 yards both rushing and passing).
“They have a lot of playmakers; they have a lot of guys who are going on to play Division I football,” Gilbert said. “If you make mistakes, they’ll make you pay. That’s exactly what they did tonight.”
Tahlequah’s second straight game to be blanked at home was the final home contest for 12 Tiger seniors.
“Defensively, we came out and stopped them and the defense played well all night,” Gilbert said. “Offensively, we weren’t moving the ball. Not exactly how we expected to spend senior night.”
East Central, despite having to forfeit its first four wins of the season because of using an ineligible player, has now won all nine games its played this season. The Cardinals will take on Pryor in the regular-season finale with a chance to lock up the District 5A-4 title with a win.
“Collinsville played us tough [in Week 8],” Klinck said, trying not to be to over-confident as the playoffs approach. “We’ve faced a lot of teams that run the power stuff, and Tahlequah is more of a zone team, which helped us out a little bit. But we have to get tougher if we want to succeed in the playoffs.”
Tahlequah will close out its season in Week 10 at Collinsville.
“As of right now, we have a lot of young men that will be coming back next year — about 19 to 20 coming back with some starting experience,” Gilbert said. “So next week is an opportunity for us to go play Collinsville, who is probably going to finish second in the district. Maybe we’ll get some things going to propel us into the offseason.”
East Central 42, Tahlequah 0
EC 6 22 14 0 -- 42
TAH 0 0 0 0 -- 0
EAST CENTRAL — Deontre Youngblood 82-yard punt return (conversion failed), 0:27.
EAST CENTRAL — Stanvon Taylor 26-yard pass from Trevaughn Cherry (Cherry to Youngblood), 11:53.
EAST CENTRAL — Cherry 1-yard run (Cherry to Youngblood), 7:55.
EAST CENTRAL — Taylor 100-yard interception return (kick failed), 0:34.
EAST CENTRAL — Youngblood 85-yard punt return (Jessie Garcia kick), 8:46.
EAST CENTRAL — William Goree 52-yard run (Garcia kick), 6:10.
First downs 9 7
Rush 4 5
Pass 5 1
Penalty 0 1
Rush Att-Yds 25-93 36-90
Pass Comp. 7 1
Pass Att. 15 12
INT’s thrown 1 2
Passing Yards 93 11
Total Yards 186 101
Punts-Avg. 5-30.2 7-34.3
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 1-0
Penalties-Yds 11-68 2-10
East Central: William Goree 9-70, Deontre Youngblood 2-15, Stanvon Taylor 1-9, Trevaughn Cherry 4-(-6), Deangelo Williams 7-7, Quantel Givens 1-1, Team 1-(-3). Tahlequah: Mason McMillan 21-48, Will Carlile 5-28, David Dick 4-9, Brandon Conrad 5-5, Team 0-0.
East Central: Cherry 7-13-0 93, Taylor 0-2-0 0; Tahlequah: Dick 1-7-1 11, Carlile 0-5-1 0.
East Central: Youngblood 2-26, Taylor 1-26, Goree 2-15, Burkhalter 1-10, Ennis 1-16; Tahlequah: Tyler Eisensmith 1-11.