Tahlequah Daily Press

High School Sports

November 1, 2013

East Central stuffs Tigers

TULSA — Until the last 15 seconds Thursday night, it looked like Tahlequah would make the East Central Cardinals join them on the sidelines during the playoffs.

Facing a fourth-down-and-short at the East Central 11-yard line and down a point with 44.8 seconds left to play, the Tigers stuck with their ground game and handed the ball off to senior running back Brandon Conrad to pick up a first down and give Tahlequah one last shot at the end zone.

Met by a flock of Cardinals, Conrad barely made it past the line of scrimmage, giving East Central (4-5, 4-2 District 5A-4) a 28-27 Homecoming and Senior Night victory at the East Side Sports Complex.

With the win, East Central — last year’s Class 5A runner-up — stays in contention for one of District 5A-4’s four playoff spots. Tahlequah drops to 1-8 on the season and 1-5 in district play. The Tigers have not made the postseason since 2001.

After the game, Tahlequah head coach Brad Gilbert did not second-guess the decision to run the ball with the game on the line rather than attempt a field goal.

 “It didn’t even cross my mind,” Gilbert said. “After missing two point-after attempts earlier in the game — and I don’t blame that on anyone — I had to stick with the players I had out there.”

After being held to two touchdowns over the last two years combined against the Cardinals, the Tigers exceeded that in the first half alone, thanks in part to the efforts of Kyle Lucas. The sophomore linebacker put Tahlequah on the scoreboard first by returning an East Central interception for a touchdown from the five-yard line.

“That gave us a real boost on the sidelines,” Gilbert said. “It was early enough in the game and helped get the kids fired up.”

Thanks to that early fire, Tahlequah led by 13 at halftime, with Conrad and senior receiver Wyatt Jones finding the end zone in the second quarter. Jones scored on one of two successful Tiger reverses on the night, catching a nine-yard pass from Lucas.

Holding East Central to only four first downs in the first half and none in the first quarter, Tahlequah did not trail the Cardinals until 3:52 in the fourth quarter. Deriek Ross put East Central ahead for good when he connected on a point after attempt after junior quarterback Tre’von Cherry scored on a five-yard touchdown run. Despite sustaining a high ankle sprain in East Central’s Week 8 loss to Collinsville, Cherry threw two touchdown passes in addition to his own rushing score.

The two teams’ next opponents play each other Friday night in Mayes County for the Class 5A-4 district title. Tulsa East Central wraps up its regular season next week at current district leader No. 9 Pryor (6-2, 5-0). Tahlequah returns to Doc Wadley Stadium next Friday for Senior Night against No. 10 Collinsville (6-2, 4-1).  

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