By BEN JOHNSON
There were a few tears, a few hugs and a lot of stoic looks.
Tahlequah’s season had just come to a close following a 33-23 loss to Collinsville. It was another Tahlequah season wrapping up without a trip to the playoffs. That’s 12 years and counting.
This year, though, Tahlequah wasn’t alone. All other Cherokee County teams made it a county affair by opting to side-step the playoffs.
Sequoyah was close, needing at least a five-point victory to pick up a trip to the postseason. Instead, the Indians suffered a 35-14 defeat to Lincoln Christian, triggering a much quicker start to basketball and wrestling seasons than anticipated.
Keys and Hulbert — despite a combined two victories this season — were still alive and in contention for playoff spots right up until losses in Week 9. But the writing on the wall was evident long before late-season losses.
Tahlequah was eliminated from playoff contention following a home loss to Pryor in Week 8. Yet, the Tigers were on the cusp of the postseason, but a handful of close losses derailed the Tigers.
No matter how the story goes, it’ll result in a quiet weekend in this neck of the woods.
Nevertheless, it’s never too soon look ahead to the 2014 campaign. That, along with a quick review of how things transpired this year.
The Tigers had their road to the playoffs paved quite nicely after a 47-20 win over Grove to start District 5A-4 play. All Tahlequah had to do was win its home games and maybe steal a road contest.
Instead, the Tigers went 0-4 at home in 5A-4 play. Two of the losses — to Claremore and Collinsville — were by 10 points. Both were winnable contests. One was a loss to Central in a game that Tahlequah led the whole way until the final five minutes of the contest.
To rub salt on the wound, had Tahlequah knocked off Claremore or Collinsville and held on to beat Central, a postseason spot could have been locked up in the Tigers’ road game at East Central. Instead, the Tigers — already out of playoff contention — went to Tulsa and suffered a one-point loss in a game they controlled throughout.
Tahlequah had the talent to make a playoff push this season. Charles Lamons and Eric Garcia anchored a solid offensive line, David Dick spearheaded a solid rushing attack at quarterback, Brandon Conrad and Colton Wright were a solid tandem at running back and Kourt McMillan gave the Tigers a solid pass-catching option.
Yet, it only added up to only one win.
Looking ahead to 2014, Tahlequah’s playoff prospects will be tough. Linebacker Reese Davis and free safety Will Carlile return, but the Tigers will have to find replacements for an offense that was solid this season.
The Tigers will continue in 5A-4 and play the likes of Coweta, Collinsville, East Central, Edison, Grove and Pryor. Coweta figures to return to playoff contention and Edison played tough in 6A this year.
Bottom line is it’ll be tough for Tahlequah to end its playoff drought in 2014.
The Indians nearly knocked off Locust Grove — the eventual 3A-7 champion — in Week 4. They followed with two convincing wins over Keys and Westville. A nondistrict win over Sperry would soon follow, and through seven games Sequoyah was 4-3.
That’s where the good vibes ended for the Indians. Three straight losses derailed any hopes Sequoyah had of making the playoffs.
There’s good news on the horizon, though.
The Indians bring back running back Justin Hooper and quarterback Zach Parish next year.
“We have something to build on. We have a lot of young guys who needed the experience and got it this year,” Sequoyah head coach Shane Richardson said. “We have something we can build on for next year.”
In 2014, Sequoyah remains in 3A-7 along with Locust Grove, Jay, Keys and Westville. Lincoln Christian and Hilldale will vacant the premises and Inola and Claremore-Sequoyah will fill the void.
With the degree of difficulty lowered in district play, look for the Indians to embark on playoff voyage as soon as next season.
Gary Willis was honest with himself before the season started. The Keys head coach knew wins would be few and far between during his 12th season at the helm.
Sure enough, the Cougars were limited to one win, a 28-21 triumph over Westville.
Willis graduated nearly every key player from a team that advanced to the 3A second round in 2012. Guys like Tyler Blankenship, Trevor Eubanks, Cody Cole were all gone. The page had been flipped to guys like Garett Willis and Dakota Matlock.
Willis and Matlock both took their lumps in 2013, but to hear Willis talk about his youngsters on the roster, he’s quite pleased with where the program is headed. Willis will tell anyone who will listen how Matlock may become a dominant force in 3A.
All we can do is wait and see.
While Locust Grove will be tough to top in 3A-7 for the next two years, if Keys can get its roster to improve, the Cougars could be right back in the playoff hunt.
The Riders were in for a long season with quarterback Brandon Thompson suffered an injury in a preseason scrimmage. It was an uphill battle from there.
A 19-6 win over Quapaw was a solid boost to morale, but it’s the only one the Riders would get.
If given the right amount of participation numbers, the Riders could be solid in District 2A-7 next year. Adair, Kansas, Salina and Colcord will be tough, so it Hulbert, Haskell and Chouteau will have to battle it out for wins here and there.
There’s no excitement of playoff football this season, but it’s not likely to be gone too long.