CNHI News Services
Tahlequah's offense can't function without Mason McMillan. Friday night's game on Gable Field bore witness to that.
The Tigers' senior tailback left with a hip injury early in the second quarter and Tahlequah never recovered, suffering a 54-0 beatdown at the hands of Class 5A No. 7 Coweta on a blustery night in front of a depleted homecoming crowd at Doc Wadley Stadium.
"We put BC (Brandon Conrad) in and were still able to do some things," Tahlequah coach Brad Gilbert said. "But the game just kind of got out of hand."
Coweta (4-2, 2-1 District 5A-4) limited Tahlequah to 195 yards of total offense — most of which came with the game already decided in the second half — with McMillan only accounting for 24 yards on eight carries.
"We didn't come ready to play," said Gilbert, whose team fell to 1-5 overall and 1-2 in 5A-4. "That's my fault as much as anybody's. It also didn't help that we lost some key players."
No, no it didn't.
Tahlequah's locker room following the game better resembled an infirmary with players beaten and battered. McMillan departed with a slight limb, while offensive/defensive lineman Austin Robertson left with his arm in a sling. Tyler Eisensmith, Caleb Morton and Alex Rice were also hurt throughout the course of the game.
"That takes a toll on a young football team that doesn't have a whole lot of depth," Gilbert said of the rash of injuries. "...All those guys that were hurt were seniors that have been there with us for the last three years. Now we have to see what we've got and continue to move forward."
With Tahlequah's nucleus lost for the night, Coweta marched to its first easy victory of the season. It was Coweta's first game the season decided by more than nine points.
"We started rolling and did really well," said Coweta coach Bubba Burcham, who led Coweta to its fifth straight win over Tahlequah.
"...We needed a win like this. We played in tight ball games all season, and for us to come out and get after them, it was good for our team."
In what appeared to be a competitive game during the early stages, Coweta and Tahlequah traded fruitless possessions before Coweta went in front for good on Hayden Holmes' 5-yard run with 4:53 left in the first quarter.
Holmes, Coweta's quarterback, finished the night with 36 yards on nine rushes while completing 13 of 16 passes for 136 yards.
Tahlequah had a chance to responded, getting to Coweta's 23-yard line early in the second quarter. But after a dropped touchdown pass by Eisensmith followed by a 13-yard loss when David Dick was sacked, Tahlequah moved the wrong direction, resulting in a punt — and Tahlequah's last real chance to score.
"Just a few miscues," Gilbert said, reflecting on the drive that could have pulled Tahlequah even with Coweta. "We were moving the ball and doing some good things, and we just didn't come away with points. We had opportunities, too."
From there, Coweta rammed the ball down Tahlequah's throat.
Coweta racked up 241 yards rushing and scored all but two touchdowns on the ground.
"Hayden, Jakeem (Johnson), Adam (Price), (Hunter) Raspberry, those are kind of marquee-ball carrier types," Burcham said. "And they did a great job."
Johnson, who collected 41 yards on six carries, scored the first of his two touchdowns with a 2-yard run at the 7:47 mark in the second quarter to put Coweta up 14-0.
Coweta, then, added two more touchdowns in a 23-second span later in the second quarter. Price scored on a 1-yard run with 4:50 left until halftime. And after Tahlequah botched a kickoff return in which Coweta recovered the kick, Coweta scored two plays later on Johnson's 7-yard scamper.
Coweta would added Holmes' 1-yard touchdown pass to Raspberry with 12 seconds left in the second quarter to pad its lead to 33-0 at intermission.
"We needed to play a clean football game," said Burcham, whose team fell to East Central the week before.
Coweta's starters would score one more touchdown in the third quarter on Price's fumble recovery, which he returned 30 yards to increase Coweta's lead to 40-0.
Nick Herder and Jacob Phillips then added their own 5-yard touchdown runs to round out Coweta's offensive explosion.
Burcham said a big win was just what his team needed after a narrow defeat against East Central in Week 5.
“It was just mishaps [against East Central],” Burcham said. “We just needed to play a clean football game.”
They certainly did that.