UPWARD CLIMB: Tigers will try to stack another win against Memorial

Byron Beers | Daily Press

Tahlequah junior linebacker Eli McWilliams recorded eight tackles, including a tackle for a loss, and recovered a fumble in the Tigers' 34-0 win over Glenpool last week.

Tahlequah will close out the home portion of its regular season schedule and try to build on a two-game win streak when it hosts Tulsa Memorial Friday at Doc Wadley Stadium.

The Tigers buried Glenpool, 34-0, last week to win their second straight game for the first time this season. They were also dominant in a 37-7 win over Claremore in week 7 at Doc Wadley Stadium.

Currently 4-3 overall, Tahlequah is the only one-loss team in District 5A-4 with a 3-1 mark. The Tigers are sitting behind unbeatens Collinsville (8-0, 5-0) and Pryor (6-1, 4-0).

Memorial remains winless in district play with an 0-5 record. The Chargers, coming off a 70-6 loss to Collinsville, picked up their lone win in their season opener against Tulsa Central, 15-12.

Tahlequah has continued its progression since week one, especially on the offensive side of the ball. It’s the improvement of the offensive line - - that has led the way.

“They’ve settled in and have become comfortable,” Tahlequah head coach Brad Gilbert said of his offensive line. “We helped them by changing a few schemes up of how we block things. We evaluated that after the Wagoner game, and I think that was an important weekend for us. We started to figure things out heading into the McAlester game and just continued to build on it. They’ve gotten more confident with the ability we’ve had to run the ball over the last three or four weeks.”

The Tigers are averaging just over 268 rushing yards per game since their 72-0 win over Tulsa Hale on Oct. 2. They’re averaged 390.5 total yards of offense.

Junior running back Malik McMurtrey’s consistent play and presence has also been a big factor. McMurtrey, who’s missed two games, is averaging 113.5 rushing yards (10.3 yards per carry) and has seven touchdowns during the same four-game stretch. He rushed for a season-high 148 yards against Claremore.

“The identity as a whole has kind of found itself,” Gilbert said. “We’re not an explosive, high-powered offense, but we believe we’re an offense that’s good enough to move the football consistently. We’ve got some guys we need to get the ball to, and we know who they are in Malik and Kobey [Baker]. Tyler [Joice] adds an element to the offense with his ability to run with the ball. We’ve just got to continue to improve.”

Kobey Baker leads the Tigers in both receptions (33) and receiving yards (420). Baker, who opened last week’s scoring with an 89-yard touchdown reception, has eight total touchdowns.

Joice is completing 66.3 percent of his passes for 773 yards and seven touchdowns. Joice also has three rushing TDs.

The Tigers have continued to impress on defense. They recorded their third shutout of the season against Glenpool and limited the Warriors to 168 total yards after allowing just seven points and 211 total yards against Claremore. Tahlequah has forced seven turnovers over the past two weeks and 18 on the season.

Against Glenpool, linebacker Carson Ferguson collected a team-high 12 tackles, while linebacker Shaw Thornton followed with 10. Defensive backs Dylan Leep and Matt Munoz each had interceptions, and linebacker Eli McWilliams recovered a fumble.

“Our defense has continued to play well,” Gilbert said. “We know we’ve got some areas of concern. We’re not a complete defense, but we’re playing well enough to keep people from putting a lot of points on the board.”

Memorial’s other district losses have come to Pryor (48-13), Glenpool (33-13), Claremore (33-0) and Sapulpa (61-14).

“Memorial’s had their moments, and they’ve had their struggles too,” Gilbert said. “I think it’s very important that we continue to take care of ourselves. We didn’t do that as well as we would’ve liked to last Friday. We’ve got to come out and do a better job with that. We’re looking for a complete game. We like where we’re at and we’ve just got to continue getting better. We don’t think we’ve played our best football yet, so that’s exciting.”

The Tigers have won the last four meetings against the Chargers, including a 54-8 win last season in Tulsa that clinched Tahlequah’s first district championship since 1991.

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