Tahlequah fought back from a quick 14-0 deficit and had the lead twice in the fourth quarter but came up short in a 34-24 loss at Sapulpa Friday night.
The Tigers fall to 2-3 overall and 1-1 in District 5A-4 under head coach Brad Gilbert.
Sapulpa running back Tyreese Jones scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 2:33 remaining to seal the deal for the Chieftains, who bounce back from a road loss to Collinsville last week and move to 2-1 in district play and 4-2 overall.
Jone’s scoring run came after a crucial Tahlequah turnover — a reception and fumble by Jonathan Davis. It was the second time Sapulpa converted a Tiger turnover into a touchdown.
“In a game this close you can’t lose the turnover battle,” Gilbert said. “Our kids played hard and I’m extremely proud of them. There’s not anything that they left...they left it all on the field. I’ll go to battle with these young men anytime we get an opportunity.”
The Tigers got down 14-0 on a pair of first quarter touchdown passes by Chieftain quarterback Zac Mason, but narrowed the gap to 14-10 at halftime. Senior Kobey Baker capped a 77-yard scoring drive with a 10-yard TD run, the first of three touchdowns for Baker, and Hunter Smith kicked a 26-yard field goal with 36 seconds remaining in the half.
Tahlequah’s first lead came on a 34-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tyler Joice to Baker that made it 17-14 with eight seconds left in the third quarter.
Baker gave the Tigers their final lead at 24-21 on a 44-yard touchdown run with 8:11 remaining in the game.
“Kobey played great and we’ve got to get him the ball,” Gilbert said. “We did that tonight and he made some big plays for us.”
Tahlequah will return to Doc Wadley Stadium Thursday when it hosts Claremore in a 7 p.m. kickoff. The Zebras (4-2, 2-1) suffered their first district loss to No. 4 Collinsville, 34-6, on Friday.
“We’ve got some things we need to clean up in moments of adversity and do things the right way,” Gilbert said. “It’s tough when you lose a hard fought game like this, but we’re going to address the things we need to and we’re going to get better because of it. Our young men will handle it the right way. That’s the way life is, you get knocked down and the most important thing is how you get back up.”