Here we go again.
Tahlequah will be in a familiar situation with another top 10 encounter Thursday night.
This time, the Class 5A, third-ranked Tigers will visit No. 8 Pryor.
Last week, Tahlequah withstood sixth-ranked Collinsville, 35-28, on the road in overtime to improve to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in District 5A-4 and remain the only team in 5A standing without a loss.
Pryor (5-1) has won five in a row since dropping its season opener to Siloam Springs, Arkansas. The Tigers are also 3-0 in 5A-4, joining Tahlequah as the only unbeaten in district play. They defeated East Central, 47-21, last week in Tulsa.
There’s district supremacy on the line.
“We know they’re going to be a really good football team,” Tahlequah head coach Brad Gilbert said of Pryor on Monday. “Coach [Kenny] Davis has done a really good job, they’ve played really well at a high level, and you can see that when you watch them on film. They beat a Wagoner team that is as good as anybody in this area and they beat a good Skiatook team. There’s another big challenge for us on Thursday night.”
Tahlequah needed late-game heroics over the last two weeks. The Tigers scored with 24 seconds left in regulation against Collinsville on a Tate Christian-to-Simeon Armstrong 10-yard touchdown and won on a Christian-to-Tristan King six-yard hookup for a score in overtime. In week five against Skiatook, Christian scored on a four-yard TD run with 14 seconds left to cap a 65-yard drive that took two minutes.
Christian has completed 60 percent of his passes for 809 yards with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Senior running back Dae Dae Leathers had a season-high 34 carries that went for 198 yards against Collinsville, putting him at 954 yards for the year. Leathers has 11 rushing touchdowns and is averaging 7.3 yards per carry.
Kobey Baker leads the Tigers in receptions with 20 and has 205 yards with a score, King has 14 catches and leads with both 222 yards and four TDs.
Defensively, Tahlequah is led by senior defensive end Blake Corn and senior linebacker Dylan Parish. As a duo, Corn and Parish have combined for 13 tackles for losses. Parish has a team-best 55 tackles, seven of those for losses. Corn has 31 tackles and leads the team with five quarterback sacks.
Qua’shon Leathers and Baker spearhead the secondary with two interceptions apiece. Leathers also has 48 tackles, and Baker has added 29.
Pryor’s primary weapons on offense are quarterback Trapper Gilstrap, running back Jacob Wood and receiver Garrett Mitchell.
Gilstrap is a dual threat. He has thrown for 1,171 yards with 19 touchdowns, against just one interception and rushed for 223 yards with a pair of scores. Wood has one 100-yard performance and has 309 yards and five touchdowns. Mitchell, who had 12 catches for 361 yards and four TDs in Pryor’s 42-41 win over now-4A No. 3 Wagoner, has 30 grabs for 618 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season.
“I would say that they’re the best offense that we’ve seen,” Gilbert said. “They’re very very balanced. When it comes to formations and schemes, they’re very similar to us. They’ve got a very good quarterback that’s a dual threat. He does a good job of throwing the ball and he can run the football. You can see he’s a veteran player and he’s one of their leaders. He does a really good job of running their offense.
“They’ve got a really good tailback in Jacob Wood, a senior that’s been through a lot of football games himself. He’s a physical runner.
“We’ve seen teams that throw the ball, but they’ve had just one guy. Pryor has three that are really good receivers, so it isn’t something where you can focus on one guy. They do a really good job of spreading the ball around and getting the ball to their playmakers.”
Pryor is averaging 354 total yards of offense and is putting up 38 points per game. The Tigers had a season-high 504 total yards against Wagoner have scored 40 points or better three times.
“We’re going to have our hands full and we know that,” Gilbert said. “It’ll be a great challenge for our defense, so we’ll see where we’re at when it’s all said and done. We’re excited about the challenge.”
Pryor’s defense is allowing 276 total yards. The Tigers gave up 444 to Siloam Springs, 433 to Wagoner and 426 to Skiatook.
“They run a 3-4 that we see almost every week,” Gilbert said. “They remind us a lot of Skiatook. They keep everything in front of them. They’re not going to allow the big plays. They run to the ball really well and give great effort.”