Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

September 2, 2012

Tripped up

Tahlequah falls victim to Fort Gibson and sophomore quarterback J.R. Singleton.

FORT GIBSON — Tahlequah had every intention to shut down Jake Gandara Friday night at Leo Donahue Tiger Stadium. They did that for the most part.

Problem was that J.R. Singleton stole the show and got his sophomore campaign started with a bang.

“[They’re] quarterback played really well,” Tahlequah coach Brad Gilbert said. “You have to give it up to their coaching staff.”

Singleton finished the game 6 of 13 passing for 168 yards and three touchdowns. He also led Fort Gibson in rushing with 147 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries.

“I’m gonna go to my running backs and be like, ‘hey, I’m the quarterback and I’m gettin’ you all in rushing,” Singleton joked about his team-high rushing total, which actually trumped the yardage that was posted by Fort Gibson’s four other ball carriers.

Fort Gibson coach James Singleton — J.R.’s father — said prior to the 2012 season opener that J.R. was getting a better grasp on the game and that things were starting to slow down. Singleton proved that to be true against Fort Gibson’s Highway 62 neighbors.

“Other teams are going to try and stop 20 (Gandara), so we want to get the ball into (Singleton’s) and (Ned Adair’s) hands,” said James Singleton, whose team racked up a total of 246 yards on 35 rushes. “That’s what we’re going to try and do every week.”

J.R. Singleton had a hand in all five touchdowns scored by Fort Gibson, which extracted revenge for a 35-34 loss to Tahlequah in double overtime to open the 2011 season. In his varsity debut last season, J.R. Singleton had three touchdown passes, but he was also limited to 71 yards on 5 of 18 passing.

Fort Gibson (1-0), clinging to an eight-point lead midway through the third quarter, went up 35-20 when Singleton threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Ned Adair — who held on to the scoring grab despite being hammered as soon as the ball hit his hands.

Adair finished with three catches for 71 yards and two touchdowns.

Even after going down two scores in the third period, Tahlequah had its chances to bounce back. Three of Tahlequah’s next four drives advanced into Fort Gibson territory, but two ended in David Dick interceptions.

None hurt worse more than Dick’s interception that ended up in the hands of Tristan Johnson at the goal line as Tahlequah was primed to cut into Fort Gibson’s 37-20 (after Fort Gibson got two points on a Tahlequah safety) edge early in the fourth quarter. Dick scrambled and tried to keep the play alive before hurling the ball over the middle of the field, where it landed in Johnson’s hands for an easy interception.

“He’s a young quarterback and those things are going to happen,” Gilbert said of Dick, who was 7 of 26 passing for 57 yards.

Tahlequah (0-1) had 382 total yards of offense but was unable to score after halftime. Even Mason McMillan, who rushed for 194 yards on 33 carries, was held in check until later in the fourth quarter.

“They started shutting down what we were doing, so we looked to exploit some other things,” Gilbert said of Tahlequah’s offense in the third and fourth quarters.

James Singleton said his defense eventually put the clamps on Tahlequah’s offense as the game progressed.

“Our defense grew up as the game went,” James Singleton said of his defense, which forced five turnovers. “As a staff, that’s what we were hoping would happen, because we had so many new, fresh faces on defense. We gave up 20 in the first half then shut them out in the second half, which is really really encouraging.”

With 3:17 left in the game, Fort Gibson’s Daniel Meilnik put the finishing touches on Tahlequah with a 32-yard field goal.

The game could not have started much worse for Tahlequah. Singleton connected with Zach Peterson on the very first play from scrimmage, scoring a 75-yard pass up the middle of the field. Then, after Tahlequah lost a fumble on its first offensive play of season, Fort Gibson followed with 17-yard scoring run by Singleton.

Tahlequah’s season wasn’t even a minute old and it was already down 13-0.

“I think we might of had the wide eyes because we were hit pretty quick,” Gilbert said. “They were up 13-0 on us before we could even blink.”

James Singleton said the long pass play to start the game was the plan all along.

“We knew all week we were going to throw that play,” he said. “It worked in practice, but like anything else, you don’t know if it’s going to work on Friday or not. But the free safety kind of cheated to the tight end, and we took advantage of that.”

Tahlequah finally found some traction, though.

Using McMillan — almost exclusively, Tahlequah was able to find the end zone on its third possession. Dick rolled to his right and scored on a 4-yard run to cut Fort Gibson’s lead to 13-7 at the 2:30 mark in the first quarter.

Singleton followed up with another long scoring strike, hitting Adair — again over the middle — for a 50-yard touchdown.

Tahlequah narrowed Fort Gibon’s lead to 28-20 on the final play of the first half, when Dick found Tyler Eisensmith on a 10-yard scoring pass.

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