Tahlequah will close its regular season against second-ranked Collinsville Friday on senior night at Doc Wadley Stadium.
The Tigers, winners of five straight and sitting at 7-2 overall and 5-1 in District 5A-4, can claim a district championship with a win, combined with a Claremore win at Pryor. Tahlequah manhandled Tulsa Memorial, 55-0, last week to secure a playoff spot for a program record eighth straight year.
“We don’t control our own destiny, but there’s still an outside chance if you win on Friday you can win a district championship,” Tahlequah head coach Brad Gilbert said. “If you would have told me that after week four, I would have looked at you kind of strange. It goes back to what this coaching staff has done, what those players have done. We’ve regrouped and fought our way back. It’s been awesome to see.”
The Cardinals enter unbeaten at 9-0 and 6-0. They’re coming off a convincing 63-8 win over Pryor in week nine.
Nobody has been able to stay close to Collinsville. The Cardinals are averaging more than 51 points and allowing just nine points.
“Hopefully this week we’re prepared enough to go out and compete and be in the game late and maybe give ourselves a chance to win against a really good Collinsville team,” Gilbert said. “There’s a reason they’re ranked No. 1 or No. 2, depending on the poll that you see. They’re averaging 51 points a game and they’re only giving up eight.”
The Tigers, who will honor 16 seniors Friday prior to kickoff, continue to battle injuries. It’s been an ongoing theme throughout the season, but they’ve had underclassmen step up. Last week, they were without leading rusher Malik McMurtrey after getting back senior defensive back and receiver Parker Lane.
“We’ve been beat up all year, so it isn’t anything new,” Gilbert said. “We’ve got some guys back here lately over the last couple of weeks. I just think it kind of reflects on the character of the team and their ability to have great resolve and persevere in those moments when it’s the next guy up. I just think it’s been the makeup of this team after getting into week five, week six.”
Tahlequah is led offensively by quarterback Tyler Joice and McMurtrey at the running back position. Joice is completing 60.3 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,123 yards with 15 touchdowns and five interceptions. McMurtrey has rushed for 832 yards, averaging 6.9 yards per carry, and has 10 total touchdowns.
Junior Josh Munoz replaced McMurtrey last week at running back and rushed for 80 yards on 11 carries with two touchdowns. The Tigers also received 70 yards on the ground from Darryn Spahr.
Sophomore Jacob Morrison was on the receiving end of two Joice TD passes against Memorial. Morrison, who had three catches for 40 yards, has 22 receptions for a team-high 302 yards with three touchdowns on the season. Sophomore Race Stopp has 26 grabs for 291 yards and a pair of scores.
Hunter Clay, Jonathan Davis, Lane and Mason Watkins each led the Tahlequah defensive with five tackles last week. Lane also had an interception. The Tigers allowed just 57 total yards against the Chargers.
Collinsville is led by quarterback Andrew Carney, running back Brayden Gilkey and receiver Oscar Hammond. Carney, who missed several games earlier in the season due to injury, has thrown for 392 with three touchdowns. Gilkey has rushed for 992 yards and is averaging better than eight yards per carry with 20 touchdowns. Hammond has 26 receptions for 628 yards and eight TDs.
“We know that’s a big challenge in front of us,” Gilbert said. “They’re a veteran football team. They were close to getting to the finals last year and they returned a bulk of their team this year. They’re kids are always ready year in and year out. They’re going to put a good product on the field. They’re the measuring stick, and it’s no different this year.”
Collinsville has three of the previous five matchups. The Cardinals defeated the Tigers, 55-20, last year in Collinsville.