TAHLEQUAH — The kickoff of the 2019 football season for the Fort Gibson Tigers and the Tahlequah Tigers was over almost as soon as it started.
Tahlequah’s first play from scrimmage was the only play they needed to jump out to a 6-0 lead and they never looked back in defeating Fort Gibson 42-21 at Doc Wadley Stadium on Friday night.
Tahlequah’s quarterback Tate Christian found Tristan King for a 56-yard touchdown pass that took only nine seconds off the play clock, giving Tahlequah a lead it would never relinquish. Christian finished the night with 194 yards passing on 10 completions on 12 attempts and four touchdowns.
“Tate did a great job and he is a leader on our offense,” said Tahlequah coach Brad Gilbert.
Tahlequah built a 28-0 lead by halftime and its defense held Fort Gibson in check in that first half. Tahlequah forced Fort Gibson to punt on its opening series and turned the ball over on downs on the second.
Tahlequah’s offense scored on all four of its first half possessions. Christian hooked up with Kobey Baker for a 13-yard touchdown on the second drive then it became the Dae Dae Leathers show on the next two possessions. With 22 seconds left in the first quarter, Leathers rambled 43 yards for his first touchdown of the game.
“It was a good mix, a good balance and that speaks volumes for the leadership of this team,” said Gilbert.
Fort Gibson put together its best drive of the first half — a 15-play drive that started on its own 35-yard line but ended on a fourth-and-goal from the Tahlequah one-yard line. Tavien Woodworth was stopped just short of the goal and the ball went over on downs.
“We didn’t capitalize on some opportunities. We are down there on their one-yard line and get a false start and that back us up. Those are the little things, that, as coaches, we have to get corrected,” said Fort Gibson coach Greg Whiteley.
Leathers responded to his defense’s effort with a 99-yard gallop for his second touchdown of the half. Leathers racked up 212 yards in the first half with two touchdowns and finished with 258 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns.
“We gave up too many big plays. Too many big plays by our defense in the first half and we didn’t tackle well,” said Whiteley.
Fort Gibson found the end zone on its opening possession of the second half. The Tigers put together an eight-play drive that covered 50 yards with all of it coming on the ground. Woodworth rushed five times on the drive and capped it with a six-yard scamper to cut the lead to 28-7. For the game, Woodworth totaled 172 yards on 34 carries and a touchdown.
“I saw some positive things in the second half,” said Whiteley. “I liked the way our kids battled. We didn’t fold our tents or anything. We got after them there at the start and as a coach I am proud of that.”
Tahlequah added a score on a 53-yard throw and catch from Christian to Hunter Smith to extend the lead to 35-7. The next possession, Christian found Jaxon Jones for a 7-yard touchdown toss.
Cole Maheney and Jesse Rudd added touchdown runs for Fort Gibson to finish out the scoring.
Both team return to action next Friday when Fort Gibson hosts Berryhill and Tahlequah goes to Coweta.