For the first time I can remember, schools seem split this year on when to observe fall break with some taking the break this week and others next week. As a result our breakdown of games this week in our area will focus just on the main three games that are being played under the Friday night lights.
MUSKOGEE AT TAHLEQUAH
Top-ranked Muskogee will have to make a mental switch and get back to business as usual this week after two non-competitive wins by a combined 141-0 score as they travel to Tiger Country to take on Tahlequah. During the last three games, Muskogee’s first team offense has scored on 20 consecutive possessions while the Muskogee defense has put together a string of 10 scoreless quarters.
The Tigers have some talented skill players such as wide receiver/linebacker Brayden Northington, wide receiver Beckett Robinson and their quarterback Cash McAlvain who Muskogee coach Travis Hill calls “a winner and a scrapper.” The game has special importance for the Tigers who are trying to stay in the playoff hunt with a 2-1 record in district action thus far. But the Tigers do have some momentum in their favor as they have gotten back most of the players from injuries that have plagued them all season long. They’ve struggled with injuries a good part of the season and have lost of a couple of close games against Sapulpa in the season opener and Sallisaw that they might have won with a healthy cast. Tahlequah got a big win last week in a come-from-behind effort against Tulsa Washington. They are currently in fourth place and still have to play Stillwater and Bartlesville, currently tied with Muskogee for the district lead. While it may be too early to talk about must wins, Tahlequah will have to beat at least one of the front runners somewhere along the way to maintain hopes for a first round playoff contest while the top two teams will earn a bye. The skill level of the competition may be better this week, but the Roughers will have a big advantage in the line play and they’re still more talented than the Tigers.
Nick’s pick: Muskogee 42 Tahlequah 15
SALLISAW AT HILLDALE
The rejuvenated Black Diamonds stand 4-2 on the season and are tied for third place in District 4A-4 with Fort Gibson so a win here is vital for Sallisaw’s playoff hopes, as they still have to face Poteau and Fort Gibson in the next two weeks before finishing against Madill. For the Hornets, who are 3-3, this game will be a test of character to see if they can bounce back after losses to ranked opponents Ada and Poteau the last two weeks. Although the toughest part of their schedule is behind them, the Hornets desperately need a win here to maintain any playoff hopes. Regardless of who wins this game both coaches deserve kudos for the jobs they’ve done this year. Brandon Tyler has put new life into a program at Sallisaw that was 1-19 the previous two seasons while at Hilldale David Blevins has coached up a bunch of youngsters without much experience into a team that many thought would not be competitive this year. Although the Hornets are at home, I think the momentum is with the Black Diamonds at this point in the season with a little more experience at the skill spots and a belief that they can win games.
Nick’s pick: Sallisaw 25 Hilldale 17
GORE AT CENTRAL SALLISAW
This is certainly the premier Friday night game in our area this week as another coach that has done a good job in Brandon Ellis takes his unbeaten Pirates into the Tigers cage. For the past few years Gore has dominated District A-8 and the district title has generally come down to this matchup. Both teams are unbeaten and tied for the district lead. Central Sallisaw may see this as their best chance in a few years to wrestle the title away from Gore after the Pirates graduated a boat-load of senior talent that went to the state title game last year. The Tigers have an edge at QB with VYPE TOP 100 selectee Joe Lee as well as running back Coy Blackburn. They also have an edge in experience on the defensive side with most of the starters returning from last year from a team that gave up an average of just 22 points a game.
But the Pirates have found a way to get it done without any star talent but just players who know and believe in the system and tradition of Gore football. Will Tate Brooksher, Bladin McCartney, Hunter McGee and the youthful Pirates handle the big game pressures? I’m really torn on this game and while I’d like to keep sailing the Pirate ship, I think this may be Central’s year for some revenge after taking it on the chin 65-0 last year from Gore.