When Sequoyah County rivals Gore and Central met on the gridiron Friday night at Tiger Stadium, one team was going to remain undefeated overall and unblemished in District A-8 competition — and the other team would see its perfect season stopped.
Thanks to their defense, the Tigers were able to stymy the Pirates’ offense and come away with a 26-16 win.
“I couldn’t be more happy defensively,” Central coach Jeremy Thompson said. “Our defense has come up big for us all year. Tonight was huge. We had a turnover right off the bat. We had to settle in, relax and play the football game. Once we did, defensively we got it going. We have to control our own destiny. Every week, we can’t be concerned with who won this or that. It’s all about us, and us continuing to get better. It’s a crucial point in the season — Week 8 (this week). We continue to get better on both sides of the ball.”
“It was all my fault,” Gore coach Brandon Ellis said. “I’ll take the blame on that. I’ve got to get better offensively for these kids. We just have to fix stuff on the offensive side.”
Trailing 8-0 with 9:09 left in the opening quarter, the Tigers (7-0 overall, 4-0 in district play) took possession of Gore’s kickoff and methodically moved downfield, with Central quarterback Joseph Lee scoring on a 15-yard touchdown run to cap the drive with 4:09 remaining in the period. However, Coy Blackburn was stopped on the two-point conversion, keeping the Pirates (6-1, 3-1) ahead 8-6 after a quarter.
The Tigers took the lead for good on their first possession of the second period as Blackburn took it in from a yard as he barely made it across the goal line. However, Lee’s twopoint conversion pass play failed, but Central had a 12-8 lead with 10:17 left before halftime.
After the Pirates were stopped on the ensuing possession, the Tigers capped their next drive with an 8-yard TD run by Lee. Lee then hit Cade Tucker with the two-point conversion pass to up Central’s advantage to 20-8 with 4:18 remaining in the first half.
Central surprised Gore with an onside kick, which was recovered by kicker Isaac Rogers at the Gore 43.
The Tigers drove down as deep as the Gore 4, only to be stopped on downs with 38 seconds left before halftime. Central took a 20-8 lead into the locker rooms at the break.
On Central’s first possession of the third quarter, they drove into Gore’s red zone once more, but this time penalties stopped them. It looked like the Tigers had a touchdown with Rogers catching a TD pass from Lee only to be called for offensive pass interference. The Tigers ended up getting stopped on downs at the Gore 30 with 1:44 left in the period.
However, on the very next play, the Pirates threw a backward pass that was not handled, with the ball ending up being recovered by Central’s Easton Girty at the Gore 25 with 1:34 remaining in the quarter, which when completed saw Central stay ahead 20-8.
The Tigers once again drove deep into Gore’s red zone, only to have the same ill fate happen as what happened to end the first half — getting stopped on downs at the Gore 4 with 10:59 left to play in the game.
“We’re in the red zone, and we don’t get points,” Thompson said. “We’ve got to fix that. We’re going to fix the red-zone offense to get points out of it.
The Pirates got the ball out to their own 22, only to be stopped on downs with 9:50 remaining to be played.
The Tigers cashed this possession in with Lee’s third TD of the game, a 4-yard run with 6:21 remaining to play in the game. On the two-point pass play, Lee’s pass was picked off at the goal line by Gore’s Journey Shells, keeping Central ahead 26-8.
The Pirates took the ensuing kickoff and capped a scoring drive with their biggest play of the night, a 48yard touchdown pass from Tate Brooksher to Shells. The same two also hooked up on the two point conversion to cut Central’s lead to 2616 with 3:31 left to be played.
Gore tried an onside kick, but the kicker essentially whiffed on the kick, so the Tigers took over. On the ensuing Central possession, on fourth down, Lee’s pass just missed a wide open Tucker in the end zone, so the Pirates took over at the Gore 31 with 2:31 left to play in the game.
“Coach (Matt) Hawkins coached his butt off,” Ellis said. “He had a great defensive game plan. Our defense played lights out. I couldn’t ask for a better job, but our defense was on the field for too long. They methodically made drives and took time off the clock. Hats off to them. They deserve it (the win), and we didn’t deserve it. Coach Thompson did a heck of a job.”
However, the Pirates could do nothing with the ball on the ensuing possession, and the Tigers ran out the clock.
“I’m very proud of our offensive and defensive lines,” Thompson said. “I thought we played well up front. Those guys did a great job. That’s what it took to win the football game. We won in the trenches.
The game started off well for Gore as Hunter McGee recovered a Central fumble on the first snap from center at the Central 44 with 11:49 left in the first quarter.
The Pirates took the ball and marched downfield with Brooksher scoring on a 2-yard TD run. Brooksher then hit Jagger Moore on the two-point conversion to put Gore ahead 8-0 with 9:09 remaining in the opening period.
Both teams will return to action on Thursday as the Pirates will visit Panama and Central will visit Talihina — which is returning to varsity action for the first time in two seasons after not having enough varsity players last year. Both games will kick off at 7 p.m.