Brad Gilbert won’t be holding anything back on Friday.
The Tahlequah head coach wants a part of exclusive history when his team hosts Claremore in a 7 p.m. kickoff at Doc Wadley Stadium.
Although their playoff positioning is already established, the Tigers will be all hands on deck on senior night.
After accomplishing a first since 1991 last week in claiming a district championship by pummeling Tulsa Memorial, 54-8, the Tigers will be attempting to do something for only the second time in school history — go undefeated in the regular season, which was also done in 1991.
Gilbert didn’t budge when asked if he would go the safe route and rest his starters.
“We didn’t even discuss it as a staff,” Gilbert said. “It’s just one of those things where you’re only guaranteed 10 games. My point to these young men is that they’ve only got a small window to play in as many games as possible. In the back of your mind I guess you could hold kids out and maybe save them or let them rest and prevent injury, but if you live life that way, if you play in athletics that way...that’s just not how we do things. We’re not about that.”
Tahlequah, ranked third in this week’s Associated Press Class 5A Oklahoma High School Football Poll behind top-ranked Bishop McGuinness and No. 2 Carl Albert, enters Friday with a 9-0 overall mark and is 6-0 in District 5A-4.
In the most likely playoff scenario, the Tigers are in line to host the all-too-familiar Coweta, who currently sits fourth in the 5A-3 standings.
Friday will also be about recognizing a senior class that has been a big part of the establishment.
Players like Blake Corn, Dylan Parish, Dae Dae Leathers, Tate Christian, Kooper McAlvain, Jaxon Jones, Tristan King, Simeon Armstrong, Hayden Napier, Trae Patrick, among others, have been staples to a culture that just knows how to win football games.
“It’s a good core group,” Gilbert said. “They’ve really embodied everything that we’ve asked them to, even those that don’t play as much as they’d like to. Across the board, this group is really good practice players. They’re what you want. We have exceptional leaders in this group and we’ve got guys that understand their roles and they do it very well. I think there are so many things that go into being successful, and they embody a lot of those.”
Tahlequah is led offensively by Leathers, the school’s career rushing leader. Leathers has 1,393 yards, 18 touchdowns and averages 8.1 yards per carry. At quarterback, Christian has thrown for 1,075 yards with 18 TDs. At the receiver positions, the Tigers are led by King and Kobey Baker. King has 20 catches for a team-high 363 yards and leads the team with eight touchdowns, and Baker leads with 24 receptions and has 277 yards.
At linebacker, Parish tops the defense with 79 total tackles and has eight tackles for losses. Corn has team highs in quarterback sacks (seven) and tackles for losses (12), and junior defensive back Qua’shon Leathers leads with three interceptions and is tied for second on the team with linebacker Angel Quezada in tackles with 65.
Tiger streaks: Dating back to last year, Tahlequah has won its last 10 district games. The Tigers have also won their last 13 regular season games and their previous six regular season games at Doc Wadley Stadium.
Claremore at a glance: The Zebras enter Friday’s matchup at 5-4 overall and 4-2 in the district. They have won three of their last four games, including a 45-26 win over Pryor last week. The only loss during that stretch came to Skiatook, 34-27, in week eight.
“It’s a rival game,” Gilbert said. “Claremore is a very good football team, well coached. Coach [Jarrett] Hurt does a tremendous job with that program. They’re very talented at the skill positions and up front they do a really good job. It’s a big challenge for us and our kids enjoy the competition between Claremore and ourselves.”
Offensively, Claremore is led by senior quarterback Charlie Murdock, senior running back Jace Hightower, and receivers Dylan Kedzior and Deshawn Kinnard. Murdock has completed just over 60 percent of his passes for 1,936 yards with 25 touchdowns, Hightower has rushed for 737 yards and 12 TDs, Kedzior has 49 receptions for 836 yards and 11 scores, and Kinnard has 27 catches for 455 yards and seven TDs.
Linebackers Ethan Grimett and Mason Hayes lead the Zebras’ defense. Grimett paces the team with 68 tackles, and Hayes follows with 66. Defensive end Tyler Freeman has five sacks and leads with 13 tackles for losses.