CNHI News Services
Tahlequah’s playoff hopes were fully intact on the night of Sept. 21, when the Tigers blasted Grove in the District 5A-4 opener. Three and a half weeks later, those postseason chances are on the verge of waving goodbye.
In order to pencil in an 11th game of the season, Tahlequah must win its final three games of the regular season.
That starts Thursday night at Pryor.
“We know our backs are against the wall,” Tahlequah coach Brad Gilbert said.
The Tigers (1-6, 1-3 District 5A-4) find themselves in a must-win situation after dropping a gut-wrenching, 20-15 decision at Central last week. Tahlequah was on the receiving end of three Central fumbles, but in return, the Tigers offered up a fumble and two interceptions to cancel out the turnover battle.
“We had our chances to win at the end,” said Gilbert, whose club has lost its last night games away from home. “We had three trips inside the red zone and didn’t score. That hurts any team’s chance to win a game on Friday night.”
Remaining positive, though, Gilbert said his team showed up for practice Monday and churned out possibly the best session of the year.
“(Monday’s) practice was about as good as we’ve had all year,” Gilbert said. “The kids aren’t quitting. They were disappointed [after losing to Central], and I’m glad to see that because that means they care. Now we just hope to continue having good practices.”
After roaring out of the starting gate with impressive rushing statistics, Tahlequah running back Mason McMillan’s production has taken a hit during the Tigers’ current three-game losing skid. After leaving the Coweta game with a hip injury, McMillan was once again held under 100 yards rushing against Central, mustering only 59 yards on 16 carries.
At quarterback, David Dick’s production has also decreased. Against Central, Dick completed only five passes (on 14 attempts) while tossing two interceptions.
Enter, Will Carlile.
The sophomore free safety spelled Dick at times and ended up leading Tahlequah in rushing against Central, with 93 yards on 17 carries. He also completed 50 percent of his passes (6 of 12) for 34 yards.
“We hadn’t really moved the ball, offensively,” Gilbert said of the Central game. “We needed a change to see if we could do something. We stuck Will in for a change of pace, but then David came back in and executed the two-minute drill and scored.”
Gilbert said Dick would remain the starting quarterback, but Carlile will also see time in the offensive backfield.
“Both will play,” Gilbert said. “We’ve told them, it’s not about them, it’s about the team. They’re both capable of doing what we need to do to win games on Friday night.”
More than adequate of getting the job done for Pryor is tailback Carson Smallwood.
Filling the void left by Austen Brooner from last year’s Pryor club, Smallwood has already amassed 1,000 yards rushing, racking up 1,152 yards and 19 touchdowns on 134 carries.
“They have a very good tailback,” Gilbert said of Smallwood, who is 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds.
“He’s also a good linebacker.”
Smallwood was limited, however, in Pryor’s loss to Claremore last week. The senior running back left in the third quarter with an injury and never returned.
“We’re expecting him to play,” Gilbert said. “We haven’t prepared any differently.
“We know, with him, they are a very good football team. Without him, we don’t really know because we haven’t seen any of their other players.”