By BEN JOHNSON
One thing is for sure about Tahlequah’s opponent this week: the East Central Cardinals are resilient.
Before the season even started, the Cardinals dismissed two head coaches. Both Travis Hill and Ben Bowling were shown the door.
Enter, former Jenks star, Bobby Klinck.
Then, East Central rattled off four victories to begin the season only to have those wins stripped away because of the use of an ineligible player.
Yeah, this Cardinals team has pretty much seen it all.
Yet, the Cardinals enter Doc Wadley Stadium tonight at 7:30 with nearly a perfect mark in District 5A-4 play (4-1) and have won eight — err, four — games in a row.
“They could very well be the best 4-4 team in the history of the state of Oklahoma,” said Tahlequah coach Brad Gilbert joking about East Central, which beat Del City, Bartlesville, Booker T. Washington and Central before having those wins stripped from the record books.
Since then, though, East Central has knocked off Coweta, Claremore, Grove and Collinsville to leave the Cardinals within two games of a district crown.
“We talked about consequences and how even when you make mistakes by accident, you have to accept the consequences of your actions,” said Klinck, who was the defensive coordinator at Muskogee before taking over at East Central. “A mistake was made, that obviously wasn’t done on purpose, and we have been penalized. We decided to move forward and so far our kids have done an incredible job of being resilient.”
There’s that word again.
It helps when Klinck has the daily services of Oklahoma commit Stanvon Taylor, William Goree, Deontre Youngblood, Trevaughn Cherry, Kimmie Carson and others.
“Obviously they are very talented individuals; what I try to teach them are the things that will make them successful on the next level and in their lives: they can’t buy into the hype of being a ‘star’ athlete,” Klinck said. “They have to keep doing the things that made them successful up to this point.”
The challenge for Tahlequah? Stopping all of those guys in order to pick up its second victory of the season.
“They have a lot of tradition, and they’re extremely athletic,” said Gilbert, whose club is 1-7 overall and 1-4 in 5A-4. “Coach Klinck has taken over this year and they haven’t missed a beat.”
While East Central will almost certainly be heading back to the playoffs, Tahlequah has already been eliminated from postseason contention. The Tigers will be going on more than a decade-plus since last participating in a playoff contest.
But with his team’s fate already determined, Gilbert said there’s still work to be done in 2012.
“We told (the team) that it’s still an opportunity to improve the football team and improve the program as a whole,” Gilbert said. “It’s up to the seniors to lead and set the foundation for the future.”
Tahlequah’s final home of the season will be the final time Mason McMillan and other seniors play on Gable Field. Through eight games this season, McMillan has racked up 1,053 rushing yards.
“He has been really good for us,” Gilbert said of his tailback. “It says a lot about the young men up front, too.”
Tahlequah’s ability to run the ball, along with David Dick’s potential at quarterback, has Klinck’s team focused in on the Tigers, rather than looking ahead to Week 10 against Pryor.
“I am very impressed with the quarterback; he is very quick and is hard to tackle,” Klinck said. “I don’t think we are looking past this team at all. When you rush for over 200 yards against a very good Pryor team, it’s impossible to overlook them. The Tigers have our full attention.”
East Central at Tahlequah
Where: Doc Wadley Stadium.
Radio: Game will air live on KEOK, FM-102.1.
Nicknames: Tahlequah Tigers; East Central Cardinals.
Coaches: Tahlequah (Brad Gilbert, 2-13, second season); East Central (Bobby Klinck, 4-4, first season).
Records: Tahlequah 1-7 (1-4 District 5A-4); East Central 4-4 (4-1).
Rankings: Tahlequah is not ranked in Class 5A; East Central is No. 3 in 5A in the Associated Press’ prep poll.
Series record: Tied, 3-3.
Last week: Pryor 40, Tahlequah 13; East Central 36, Collinsville 26.
Last meeting: In 2011, East Central beat Tahlequah 61-14 on Gable Field.
News to know: East Central sports a .500 record, but the Cardinals haven’t actually lost a game this year. They had to forfeit their four wins to open the season, because they allowed an ineligible player to participate. ... Tahlequah has given up an average of 31.4 points in district games this season. ... East Central is tied for first in District 5A-4 with Claremore. ... Tahlequah is been eliminated from playoff contention.
Players to watch
Tahlequah: Mason McMillan (RB), David Dick (QB).
— McMillan got back on track last week, rushing for 160 yards against Pryor on 28 carries.
— Dick, while only completing 4 of 13 passes against Pryor, did run for almost 100 yards last week. He had 91 yards on 16 rushes.
East Central: Stanvon Taylor (Athlete), William Goree (RB), Kimmie Carson (LB).
— Taylor does a little bit of everything for East Central. Last week against Collinsville, Taylor threw a 71-yard touchdown pass, he caught a 12-yard touchdown pass and he also recorded an interception. Taylor had verbally committed to the University of Oklahoma.
— Goree is East Central’s leading rusher this season with 741 yards and 10 touchdowns on 123 carries.
— Carson, a New Mexico commit, leads the Cardinals with 89 tackles on defense this season.
Looking ahead: Tahlequah will play at Collinsville on Nov. 2, while East Central will face Pryor.