There were a lot of great sports moments for Tahlequah over the course of the 2019-20 school year.
The Tigers did something that hadn’t been done since 1991 on the gridiron.
The Tigers and Lady Tigers basketball teams combined on a feat that was a first in school history.
The fastpitch softball team and both cross country teams advanced to state.
There were some great individual performances and school records broken.
This will be the first part of a series and will begin with a look back at the football season.
The Tigers finished at 9-2 for a second straight season under head coach Brad Gilbert and advanced to the Class 5A Playoffs for a sixth consecutive year.
There were 15 single-game, single-season and career marks either tied or broken in the 2019 season alone.
To sum it up best, the Tigers won their first district championship in nearly three decades.
Brad Gilbert records 40th win as Tahlequah head coach: It was the perfect way to begin the season against Fort Gibson on Sept. 6 at Doc Wadley Stadium.
The Tigers scored on the game’s first play from scrimmage — quarterback Tate Christian hooked up with receiver Tristan King for a 56-yard touchdown — and rolled to a 42-21 win, the 40th as head coach at Tahlequah for Brad Gilbert.
Tahlequah scored on all four of its offensive possessions in the first half to build a 28-0 cushion.
Christian completed 10 of his 12 pass attempts for 194 yards and finished with four TD passes.
Running back Dae Dae Leathers needed just 19 carries to compile what would be a season-best 266 yards on the ground and found the end zone twice. His 99-yard TD run in the second quarter is a school record.
King, Bradley Pruitt, Kobey Baker and Jaxon Jones each had a touchdown reception. King led with 62 yards, and Baker had a game-high five catches.
Linebacker Dylan Parish collected 14 tackles, while Qua’shon Leathers and Baker both had 10 stops. Baker and King each had an interception.
Tigers top Skiatook in dramatic fashion: It would be the start of a magical three-game stretch for the Tigers.
Senior quarterback Tate Christian directed a 65-yard scoring drive in the final 2:14 to lift Tahlequah to a climatic 26-22 win over Skiatook on Oct. 4 at Doc Wadley Stadium.
Christian completed all six of his pass attempts on the drive and capped it with a 4-yard touchdown run with 14 seconds left. He completed three of his passes to Kobey Baker for 27 yards, twice connected with Simeon Armstrong for 20 yards and had a completion of four yards to Tristan King.
“That final drive...we practice it every day,” Christian said afterwards. “It’s like we can read the back of our hand or do it with our eyes closed. We just executed and guys made plays, and that’s all that matters. We made plays when we needed to.”
Christian finished by completing 16 of 20 passes for 178 yards with one TD. Dae Dae Leathers rushed for a game-high 108 yards with a pair of touchdowns, and Kobey Baker had seven catches for 73 yards.
Senior defensive end Blake Corn, who would eventually be named District 5A-4 Player of the Year and an Oklahoma Coaches Association All-State selection, finished the game with a sack of Bulldogs’ quarterback Mason Willingham. Corn ended with seven tackles, two of those for losses.
Qua’shon Leathers led the Tigers with 12 tackles and had an interception, while Dylan Parish followed with 11 tackles.
Tahlequah upends Collinsville in OT, stays unbeaten: The Tigers continued their magic a week after pulling off a breathtaking win in the closing minutes against Skiatook.
This time, No. 3 Tahlequah went to sixth-ranked Collinsville and found a way in overtime with a 35-28 win. The Tigers headed back home as the only unbeaten team remaining in 5A, improving to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in District 5A-4.
Tristan King was on the receiving end of a 6-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tate Christian for what would be the game-winning points in OT. Christian got the Tigers to overtime on a 10-yard TD pass to Simeon Armstrong with 24 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Tahlequah, who got 198 rushing yards and two touchdowns from Dae Dae Leathers, overcame two second-half deficits. The Tiger defense forced an incomplete pass from Collinsville quarterback Kolten Allphin on fourth down to finish the game.
“We continued to battle back,” Tigers’ head coach Brad Gilbert said. “It was a great win, great team win, and it’s a great program win. Anytime you can come up here and beat Collinsville, you’ve earned it.”
Christian threw for 127 yards and had three TD passes, and Jaxon Jones led with five catches and 55 yards. Qua’shon Leathers led the defense with 11 tackles, while Dylan Parish, Kobey Baker and Angel Quezada followed with nine each. Blake Corn and Travis Davis each recorded a sack.
Tigers destroy Pryor: Tahlequah didn’t need a late-game comeback in game three of its mid-season trial on Oct. 17 in Pryor.
From start to finish, the third-ranked Tigers were in complete command of a 58-13 win over No. 8 Pryor. The win put the Tigers at 7-0 overall and 4-0 in District 5A-4.
Tahlequah scored on its first offensive play when quarterback Tate Christian found receiver Tristan King on a 49-yard pitch and catch. The duo later connected again on a 5-yard touchdown to put the Tigers up 35-6 at halftime.
“We put a complete game together,” Tahlequah head coach Brad Gilbert said. “We wanted everybody to understand that we were coming here for a reason. Those seniors and those veteran football players took that to heart.”
The Tigers felt underappreciated going in although they remained the lone unbeaten team in all of Class 5A.
“A lot of people doubt us, but it just fuels the fire,” defensive end Blake Corn said. “We just have to keep going. It fuels us to go hard. Everybody’s alway doubted Tahlequah. We’ve got a program that’s really prestigious and we’re trying to prove that every day.”
Running back Dae Dae Leathers rushed for over 200 yards for the second time on the season, finishing with 209 on 22 carries and three touchdowns. Christian threw for 138 yards and three scores, and King had three receptions for 69 yards and two TDs.
Dylan Parish registered a team-high nine tackles, and four different players — Carson Ferguson, Angel Quezada, Parish and Corn — recorded one sack.
Dae Dae Leathers breaks school rushing mark: Dae Dae Leathers rushed for 100 yards or better for the seventh time in eight games and became the school’s all-time rushing leader.
Leathers closed with 129 yards on 16 carries and had three touchdowns as No. 4 Tahlequah dumped Tulsa East Central, 41-10, at Doc Wadley Stadium to move to 8-0 overall and 5-0 in District 5A-4.
The senior running back had scoring runs of 5, 2 and 9 yards. His 9-yard TD run gave the Tigers a 41-3 lead midway through the third quarter.
The 129 yards put him at 3,294 for his career, passing Cayden Aldridge’s 3,292 yards.
Leathers went on to finish with 3,575 yards in his career. He also holds school records in yards per carry in a season (7.6), yards per carry in a career (7.4), rushing touchdowns in a career (44) and rushing touchdowns in a season at 22 (tied with Kyle Lucas).
A long time coming: Tahlequah went into its matchup with Tulsa Memorial on Halloween night with a district championship within reach.
It had been 28 years since the program had won a district title.
The Tigers didn’t have to reach very far in a dominating 54-8 win over the Chargers to move to 9-0 overall and 6-0 in District 5A-4.
“It’s a great night for us, to be 9-0, and win a district championship,” Tigers’ head coach Brad Gilbert said. “It’s always a great feeling to accomplish a goal that you push for when you start the season.”
Tahlequah rushed for 352 yards and led 47-0 at halftime. Dae Dae Leathers led the ground game with 101 yards and did so on only four carries.
The Tiger defense allowed just 150 total yards and had interceptions from Dylan Parish, Qua’shon Leathers and Shaw Thorton. Parish returned his pick 42 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.
Tahlequah honors and records: The Tigers claimed three of the four top District 5A-4 awards and had a handful of others earn honors in 2019.
Head coach Brad Gilbert was named Coach of the Year, Blake Corn was selected the Player of the Year, and Dae Dae Leathers was chosen Offensive Player of the Year.
Dylan Parish was named the Linebacker of the Year, and Tate Christian was picked Co-Quarterback of the Year. Tristan King and Hayden Napier were selected to the first team, and Montana Wood, Jaxon Jones, Simeon Armstrong, Trae Patrick, Joe Hendrix, Travis Davis and Kooper McAlvain were honorable mention selections.
Corn was later chosen as an OSA All-State selection.
The Tigers broke a pair of team rushing records in 2019. They averaged a single-game best 11.7 rushing yards per attempt against Tulsa Memorial, and broke a school mark with 6.3 rushing yards per attempt for a season.
Tahlequah had a school-record 28 first downs against Collinsville, and averaged another school-record 11.8 yards per play against Fort Gibson.
Blake Corn broke the school record for quarterback sacks in a season (nine) and career (19).
Dae Dae Leathers holds program records in rushing yards for a career (3,575), career rushing touchdowns (44), rushing touchdowns in a season (22), yards per carry in a season (7.6) and yards per carry for a career (7.4).
Trae Patick finished as the school’s all-time leader in extra points made in a career with 81, and tied current Northeastern State head coach J.J. Eckert’s single-season mark of 41 PATs.