By BEN JOHNSON
The light at the end of the tunnel appears to be minuscule for Tahlequah right now. Its resemblance is closer to a laser pointer, rather than a flood light.
But hope is not lost for the Tigers. All Tahlequah has to do is post victories in the final three weeks of the regular season and hope for some help along the way.
First up on that must-win list for the Tigers is Pryor tonight at Doc Wadley Stadium at 7.
“We have to win our final three for the playoffs to be a possibility,” Tahlequah head coach Brad Gilbert said on Thursday. “We have to take care business this week.”
In order to do that, Tahlequah will have to corral Pryor quarterback Brennon Barth, who through seven games is knocking on the doorstep of 1,000 rushing yards. The junior quarterback has logged one of the highest totals of touchdowns scored (15), thanks to his execution in Pryor’s triple option attack.
“We have to slow down the quarterback and fullback,” Gilbert said, mentioning Pryor’s other primary ball carrier, Matt McGouldrick, who has 682 yards on 124 carries this season.
“It’s an offense that not many teams have been able to slow down. Hopefully we can slow it down and cause some problems.”
It’ll be Tahlequah’s second time against a triple-option offense this season. The Tigers (1-6, 1-3 District 5A-4) gave up 261 yards on 50 carries in a 41-6 loss to Rogers (Ark.) in Week 2. Pryor’s attack also varies from the Mounties’ running execution, mainly with the option coming out of spread formations with multiple wide receivers.
“We’ve kind of seen a glimpse of this when we played Rogers,” Gilbert said. “They do it a little differently with different schemes. (Pryor) makes few to no mistakes, so they’re operating within the system very well.”
Pryor enters Week 8 as the leader in 5A-4, holding a record of 5-2 overall and an unblemished 4-0 mark in district play. Pryor’s biggest win of the season came last week in a 35-26 triumph over Claremore in a battle of the top two teams in 5A-4.
So will is there a chance of a letdown from Pryor?
“Shoot, that’s not a problem at all,” Pryor head coach Jason Freeman said. “We approach every game the same way.”
Further validating his point, Freeman talked about Tahlequah’s offensive weapons and how dangerous they could be if Pryor doesn’t show up ready to play.
“No. 21 (Brandon Conrad) and No. 2 (David Dick) are the scariest duo that we have faced,” Freeman said of Tahlequah’s rushing leaders — Conrad (running back with 513 yards) and Dick (quarterback with a team-high 748 yards and 11 touchdowns).
“(Central’s D’Angelo) Brewer was scary and so was (Wagoner’s Lawrence) Evitt. But as a duo, they’re the best together that we’ve played.”
Baffled a bit by Tahlequah’s record, Freeman also said that Tahlequah could easily be one of the district’s best with the talent that it possesses.
“They could very well be in the position that we’re in,” Freeman said. “They’re probably a few turnovers away from fighting for this district, I believe.”
Pryor at Tahlequah
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Doc Wadley Stadium.
Radio: KEOK, FM-102.1. Pryor broadcast is on KITO, FM-96.1.
Nicknames: Tahlequah Tigers; Pryor Tigers.
Coaches: Tahlequah - Brad Gilbert (second season, 2-15); Pryor - Jason Freeman (second season, 9-8).
Records: Tahlequah 1-6 (1-3 District 5A-4); Pryor 5-2 (4-0).
Rankings: Tahlequah is not ranked in Class 5A; Pryor is No. 10 in Class 5A in this week’s Associated Press’ prep poll.
Series record: Pryor leads 28-26.
Last meeting: In 2012, Pryor beat Tahlequah 40-13. Pryor took the lead for good on Brennon Barth’s 90-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter. After falling behind 6-0, Pryor scored the next 33 points to take full control.
Last week: Central 25, Tahlequah 23; Pryor 35, Claremore 26.
News to know: Pryor is alone in first place in District 5A-4. The Tigers knocked off Claremore last week in a game between the top two teams in the district. ... Tahlequah must win its remaining three games to make the playoffs. Tahlequah also needs Pryor to win its final two games against both Collinsville and East Central, which would give both East Central and Collinsville (Tahlequah’s final two opponents) at least three district losses and chance to advance to the playoffs based on a tiebreaking system. ... Pryor has scored 33.3 points in its last four games.
Players to watch
- Tahlequah: David Dick (QB), Reese Davis (LB).
-- Dick has been dynamic in both the running and passing games for Tahlequah this season. He has a team-high 748 yards and 11 touchdowns on 127 carries, while also passing for 742 yards and seven scores.
-- Davis has a team-high 125 tackles for the Tigers. He’ll be instrumental in trying to stop Pryor’s triple option rushing attack this week.
- Pryor: Barth (QB), Alex McCammon (DL).
-- Barth, a 5-foot-11, 170-pound junior, has rushed for 923 yards out of Pryor’s triple-option rushing attack. He has also passed for 520 yards.
-- McCammon, a 5-11, 230-pound senior, is Pryor’s anchor on defense at the nose guard position. McCammon has team-high nine sacks in addition to 52 total tackles, which is third best on Pryor’s roster.
Looking ahead: Tahlequah will play its final road game at East Central on Thursday. Pryor will return home to take on Collinsville on Nov. 1.