By BEN JOHNSON
Brad Gilbert and the Tahlequah coaching staff had a plan going into district play.
Win four games and a playoff spot would all but be wrapped up.
Well, that plan is still in stable condition with the Tigers having split its first two District 5A-4 games against Grove and Claremore. However, the condition of that philosophy could upgrade to good or drop to serious depending on the outcome of Friday night’s clash at Doc Wadley Stadium between Tahlequah and Class 5A No. 7 Coweta.
“Coweta presents a major challenge for us,” said Gilbert, whose team carries a 1-4 overall mark and 1-1 district record into Week 6. “But the guys are looking forward to playing in front of the home crowd.”
As well they should be. Tahlequah’s home-vs.-road splits are staggering.
The Tigers are averaging 27.5 points at home with a 1-1 mark, while only posting 13.3 points while giving up 36 in three losses on the road.
“We’ve played well at home this year,” said Gilbert, whose only loss at home this season was to Sallisaw, whom Tahlequah was leading at halftime in Week 3.
“We’re hoping that continues.”
In order for Tahlequah to assert its dominance on Gable Field, it’ll have to get its offense back on track after a disjointed performance at Claremore a week ago. The Tigers scrapped together only 102 yards of total offense with five first downs.
“Offensively, this season, we’ve had some success, but Friday night we did not,” Gilbert said. “Against Claremore, we couldn’t get anything going.”
He’s right there. Even Tahlequah running back Mason McMillan, who went in averaging 166.8 yards per game, was limited to 54 yards on 13 carries.
On the plus side, Tahlequah’s defense turned in another strong showing after getting shelled in non-district play. The Tigers limited Claremore’s offense to only 21 points.
“They have improved every week,” Gilbert said of his defensive unit. “You can see the lights coming on with those young men. They had their backs against the wall all night long against Claremore, but those guys played extremely well and played down to the very last second.”
Tahlequah will need a solid defensive showing if its to reverse its recent history with Coweta. In the last four games between the two, Coweta has outscored Tahlequah, 140-27.
“That’s been the case with a lot of schools that we’ve played,” Gilbert said. “Coweta is a physical team, and at times, we haven’t been prepared for their physical brand of football. We have to respond with our own brand of physical football. We have to match their physicality on both sides of the ball.”
Coweta at Tahlequah
Where: Doc Wadley Stadium at Northeastern State University.
Radio: Game will air live locally on KEOK, FM-102.1.
Nicknames: Tahlequah Tigers; Coweta Tigers.
Coaches: Tahlequah (Brad Gilbert, 2-10, second season); Coweta (Bubba Burcham, 29-21, fifth season).
Records: Tahlequah 1-4 (1-1 District 5A-4); Coweta 3-2 (1-1).
Rankings: Tahlequah is not ranked in Class 5A; Coweta is No. 7 in 5A in the Associated Press’ prep poll.
Series record: Tahlequah leads, 6-4.
Last week: Claremore 23, Tahlequah 7; East Central 35, Coweta 28.
Last meeting: In 2011, Coweta blasted Tahlequah, 48-6. Coweta scored the first 34 points of the game before Tahlequah scored its lone touchdown in the third quarter.
News to know: Coweta has won the last four meetings. The combined score in those games has been Coweta 140, Tahlequah 27. ... Both teams are a part of group of six teams deadlocked at 1-1 in District 5A-4.
Players to watch
Tahlequah: Mason McMillan (RB), David Dick (QB).
— McMillan, averaging 144.2 rushing yards per game this season, was held to a season-low 54 yards on 13 carries at Claremore last week. At home (in two games), McMillan is posting 199 yards per contest.
— Dick looks to bounce back after a four-interception performance against Claremore. He only passed for 38 yards against the Zebras.
Coweta: Hayden Holmes (QB), Jakeem Johnson (RB).
— Holmes is on the cusp of passing for 1,000 yards this season, sitting at 939 with eight touchdowns on 85 of 121 passing through five games. He’s also rushed for 141 yards and five TD’s on 68 carries.
— Johnson is Coweta’s leading rusher with 435 yards on 79 carries.
Looking ahead: On Oct. 12, Tahlequah will play in Tulsa at Central, while Coweta will host Collinsville.