Tahlequah begins a difficult three-game stretch Friday when it hosts Skiatook at Doc Wadley Stadium.
The fourth-ranked and unbeaten Tigers, coming off an easy 58-0 District 5A-4 win over Tulsa Will Rogers last week, also have road games against No. 7 Collinsville and upstart 10th-ranked Pryor on the horizon.
“It’s always a competitive district, and it’s even more competitive this year with the fact that Pryor is playing better than they have in years previous to this,” Tahlequah head coach Brad Gilbert said on Monday. “If you look at the last two to three years I think our district has won three of the four first round playoff games. This district has put two teams in the state championship game over the last four or five years and multiple teams in the quarterfinals.”
But it’s first things first with Skiatook.
“They’re well-coached. Coach (Vance) Miller does a great job,” Gilbert said. “I don’t know if there’s any coach that has done as good of a job as he has with that program. This team is no different. They’re tough and they’re scrappy. You have to earn every yard you get against them. They don’t give up a lot of big plays and they keep the ball in front of them defensively.”
The Tigers (4-0, 1-0) got contributions from everybody against the Ropers. They finished with 131 yards through the air and had another 113 on the ground. The defense continued its dominant ways, allowing just 46 total yards.
“We wanted to make a statement,” Gilbert said. “We had to do that by obviously focusing on ourselves, but just playing a clean, crisp, sharp game and I think they did that, and I think by midway through the second quarter we had some of the backups already going in. That kind of shows you that they were ready to play and they went about it the right way. It sets up a run we’re about to go on with all these games, starting with Skiatook this week. We started off district play the way you wanted to.”
Quarterbacks Tate Christian and Hunter Smith combined to complete 8 of 12 passes, and Christian had a pair of touchdown passes.
Four different running backs had carries with senior Dae Dae Leathers leading the way with 57 yards on seven attempts and a TD. Sophomore Malik McMurtrey had a team-high 10 carries for 33 yards with a score, and Carson Ferguson and Eathan Callaway combined for 16 yards on eight carries.
Leathers, who is averaging 162 rushing yards and 8.5 yards per carry with seven TDs, started the game with a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Kobey Baker, Tanner Christian, Simeon Armstrong, Tristan King, Parker Lane and Jeric Hodge each had receptions. King had two catches for 55 yards with a touchdown, and Armstrong’s lone grab went for a score.
Defensively, Tahlequah forced five three-and-outs, five punts and three turnovers. The Tigers had seven tackles for losses, led by two apiece from Brandon Jackson and Shaw Thornton. Senior linebacker Dylan Parish recorded a team-best seven total tackles, while senior defensive end Blake Corn had one sack, and Qua’shon Leathers, Baker and Matt Munoz had interceptions. Leathers returned his interception 52 yards for a TD.
Skiatook dropped its 5A-4 opener to Pryor, 38-30, last week in Pryor. The Bulldogs enter at 2-2 overall. They defeated Glenpool, 17-8, in their season opener and defeated Tulsa Nathan Hale, 45-12, in week three. The other loss came to Oologah, 34-29.
Jayden Garner is a big-play threat at receiver for the Bulldogs, who also return four other starters on offense. Alex Goekler, Levon Thomas and Forrest Johnson are key contributors on the offensive line.
Garner and Josh Taylor lead Skiatook defensively in the secondary. The Bulldogs are more inexperienced on the defensive line and at linebacker.
Tahlequah has won two of the previous three meetings, including a 14-7 victory in Skiatook a year ago.