Tahlequah Daily Press


September 23, 2012

Mason makes it happen

Tahlequah rides Mason McMillan to 5A-4 victory over Grove.

Mason McMillan had the Grove game circled on his calendar before the season even started. He can now circle the game against the Ridgerunners for a whole different reason.

His gaudy statistics.

McMillan rushed for 225 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries as Tahlequah held off Grove, 35-20, at Doc Wadley Stadium on Friday night.

“The O-line blocked great, so I could make plays,” McMillan said. “I was pretty happy.”

McMillan was one of four Tahlqeuah players to find the end zone, as the Tigers won their district opener for the first time in four years.

“That’s big for us, because we know this: our goal is the playoffs,” Tahlequah coach Brad Gilbert said. “And we said it takes four (wins) to get in. We know it’s going to be an extremely difficult road, but starting out 1-0 is always better than starting off 0-1 in district play.”

In front of 3,000 fans, McMillan put the Tigers (1-3, 1-0 District 5A-4) out in front early on a 39-yard scoring run on the Tahlequah’s second possession. He also put the game on ice with a 10-yard touchdown run with 32 seconds left.

“Mason McMillan, again, we’re going to ride him,” Gilbert said of McMillan. “He’s a workhorse who wants the football. That speaks highly of our guys up front, too.”

McMillan’s final touchdown of the night capped off a nine-play, 47-yard drive that allowed the Tigers to all but run out the clock. Along the way, McMillan picked up a crucial yardage on third-and-1 and fourth-and-2 to keep the drive alive. On third-and-1, McMillan gained just enough to pick up a first down, and the 10-yard scoring run came on fourth-and-2.

“That says a lot about our preparation,” said McMillan, who rushed the ball on eight of the nine plays on the Tigers’ final drive. “Just about everyone on the O-line, and pretty much everyone that starts even, came up this summer and we worked on endurance and strength. And a lot went into those two plays.”

Tahlequah was forced to put together a deceive drive after Grove got within a touchdown with 5:16 to play.

The Ridgerunners (1-3, 0-1) cut the Tigers’ lead to 28-20 when quarterback Jake Spychalski tossed a shovel pass to Benny Steffenson, who navigated 30 yards for a touchdown.

“Our kids never gave up, tried to give it some good effort, and can’t fault them on that,” said Grove coach Dennis Millican, whose team also scored a touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter, when Spychalski threw a 7-yard pass to Clayton Honeycutt.

“That’s just a game, where both teams are fairly-well matched up, you can’t mistakes.”

Grove’s scores in the second half came after a mostly-forgettable first half for the Ridgerunners.

Credit Tahlequah for that.

After McMillan’s opening touchdown, Grove responded with an 11-play, 72-yard drive, which ended when Spychalski scored on a 1-yard keeper. However, Grove kicker Anthony Krause missed the extra point, and it was down hill from there for the Ridgerunners.

Tahlequah would reel off 21 unanswered points to claim a 28-6 halftime edge.

For the fourth time this season, Tahlequah quarterback David Dick hit Tyler Eisensmith for a passing touchdown — this one, a 22-yard pass, coming with 10:28 left in the second quarter.

Then, with Tahlequah owning a 14-6 lead, Grove marched 77 yards on 12 plays, only to have its drive halted on the Tigers’ 3-yard line. On fourth down, Tahlequah’s Hestin Lamons intercepted Spychalski to thwart Grove’s scoring chance.

“That’s big momentum shift and a big swing there,” said Millican, whose team was led offensively by Spychalski’s 269 yards and two touchdowns through the air.

Three plays later, Tahlequah was in the end zone again. Brandon Conrad, following a 52-yard run by McMillan, carried the ball 35 yards up the middle of the field for another Tahlequah score.

Tahlequah would capitalized on one more Grove turnover before the end of the half, when the Tigers recovered a fumble on a botched hook-and-ladder play by Grove’s Matt Jeffries.

Again, Tahlequah only needed three plays, with its fourth touchdown of the opening half going to Kourtland McMillan, who caught a 28-yard pass from Dick.

“We do a decent job of getting guy opportunities to create things,” Gilbert said. “...It’s all set up with what we’re able to do with Mason and those guys up front.”

In the end, Grove turned the ball over to Tahlequah six times (four interceptions and two fumbles lost).

“Busted assignments, mistakes, mental mistakes, physical mistakes,” Millican said when asked about his team’s high quantity of turnovers. “Obviously, the Tigers did some things to put us in that position.”

Tahlequah’s last district-opening win came in a 34-0 rout of Stilwell in 2008. Now, the Tigers are tied atop the 5A-4 standings with Coweta, East Central and Claremore — whom the Tigers will play next week at Lantow Field.

So, Caleb Morton — who came up with a sack and a forced fumble of Spychalski in the second half — what more could Tahlequah ask for in district play?

“2-0,” Morton said.

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