Tahlequah will be participating in the playoffs for a seventh straight year and will look to extend its season further on Friday when it hosts Tulsa Edison in a 7 p.m. kickoff at Doc Wadley Stadium.
The Tigers, who had a three-game winning streak come to a close in last week’s 55-20 loss at No. 2 Collinsville to end the regular season, finished third in District 5A-4 with a 4-2 record. They went 5-4 overall under head coach Brad Gilbert.
The Eagles suffered a 20-14 loss to Tulsa East Central to conclude their regular season last week. Edison ended sixth in District 5A-3 and finished behind Tulsa East Central. The Eagles are 3-6 overall and went 2-5 in district play.
Tahlequah fell off from its previous three weeks against Collinsville. They committed three turnovers — each of which resulted in Cardinals’ touchdowns — and couldn’t get stops on third down.
The Tigers, led offensively by the duo of junior quarterback of Tyler Joice and senior receiver Kobey Baker, finished with 326 total yards. Joice, who also rushed for a team-high 88 yards, threw three touchdown passes to Baker. Joice completed 16 of 27 passes for 221 yards, and Baker had five receptions for 111 yards. Parker Lane also had five catches and had 56 yards.
The defense, which had allowed just seven total points over the previous three weeks and recorded back-to-back shutouts, gave up 430 total yards. Collinsville was a perfect 9 for 9 on third downs. Tahlequah was led by senior defensive back Qua’shon Leathers and senior linebacker Shaw Thornton, who had 12 tackles apiece.
“I think our young men will respond the right way and have a good week,” Gilbert said on Monday. “There’s no tomorrow now. There’s no next game guaranteed. The most important thing is that we take care of ourselves and get back to the things that are going to allow us to be successful on Friday nights, and that’s those details that we talk about all the time.”
Edison’s two district wins came against Durant (25-15) on Oct. 15 and Tulsa Will Rogers (34-2) on Oct. 30.
“We had a good meeting [Sunday] as a team before we watched film. I think they’re pretty excited,” Gilbert said. “It’s a new season and everybody’s excited about the new opportunity. We’ve got a good Edison team coming to town. I don’t think their record reflects their ability.”
Tahlequah has risen from a rough start to the season to earning a playoff spot in a year where COVID-19 has given all schools an opportunity to participate in the postseason. The Tigers started 1-2 after consecutive losses to Class 4A top-ranked Wagoner and 5A No. 6 McAlester.
“We came into the season with a lot of question marks. If you were on the outside looking in, there were a lot of unknowns,” Gilbert said. “We had some question marks, but it wasn’t to the fact that we didn’t believe we’d get the job done, it was just how quickly they’d adjust and grow. The learning curve had to be sped up with a difficult non-conference schedule. They were forced to grow up quicker than what we probably would have in years past.”
The Tigers, searching for their first playoff win since defeating Coweta in the opening round in 2017, would face Bishop Kelley with a win against Edison. Bishop Kelley, who finished 8-1 overall and 5-1 in 5A-3, has a bye in round one.