By Kenton Brooks
Phoenix Sports Writer
Fort Gibson’s Jake Gandara knew what was coming.
He was aware that Stilwell was going to focus on him, especially since quarterback and teammate J.R. Singleton had to miss the game because of an injury.
“That was going to put pressure on me to get the offense going,” he said.
From the opening kickoff, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound senior thrived under that pressure as he ran for a game-high 200 yards on 21 carries in the 42-14 win against the Stilwell Indians to earn the Phoenix Player of the Week for the ninth week of the season.
And it started with the opening kickoff.
Stilwell kicked the ball out of bounds on the first two attempts, trying to keep Gandara from getting his hands on it.
“Coach (James Singleton) made them kick it again,” Gandara said. “I wasn’t mad when they kicked it out of bounds.
“Returning kicks is one of my favorite things to do. I enjoy it. I hoped they would kick it to me. I don’t know why I like it, but there’s just something about having the ball in all of that space to work.”
The third time was a charm for Gandara as he fielded the kick on his own 22-yard line and raced 78 yards for a touchdown to jump start the Tigers.
“If I had been them, I would’ve continued to kick it away from Jake,” the elder Singleton said. “Jake’s a phenomenal talent. When we’ve needed some tough yardage, he’s been there for us.”
When the season began against Tahlequah, Gandara was nursing a high ankle sprain that limited his appearance on the offensive line of scrimmage. By week two against rival Hilldale, he was at full strength and raring to go.
“I’d get out there during practice and do some running and cutting,” he said. “I also went through a little rehab. The ankle was weak against Tahlequah, but it’s healed now.”
After scoring on TD runs of 1 and 78 yards against Stilwell on Friday, he now has 1,370 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns.
“He has great vision and acceleration,” the elder Singleton said. “He committed to getting in the weight room to gain weight so he could run better between the tackles. He put on 10 pounds and that’s made a huge difference in his strength.
“He played at 173-174 pounds last season and he would kind of bounce outside on his runs. Now, he gets the tough yardage when we need him to do so. He’s a complete back now.”
Gandara and the Tigers put their 8-1 overall record and 5-1 mark in 4A-3 against Sallisaw (6-3, 4-2) on Friday at Leo Donahue-Tiger Stadium in the regular season finale. A win assures the Tigers a home playoff game.
James Singleton doesn’t have to worry about his running back.
“Our expectations are really high for him on Fridays,” the Fort Gibson coach said. “He rises to the occasion when we need him.”
Jake Gandara, Fort Gibson – Rushed for 200 yards on 21 carries and rushed for two touchdowns on runs of 1 and 78 yards, while returning the game’s opening kickoff 78 yards for a touchdown in the 42-14 win against Stilwell.
Haden Kolmer, Muskogee — Had 11 tackles including two for in loss yardage in the 20-17 loss to Putnam City.
Kelton Randolph, Muskogee — Registered 10 tackles including two for a loss against Putnam City.
Lawrence Evitt, Wagoner — Ran for 195 yards on 21 carries and scored on a six-yard touchdown run and caught a four-yard TD pass in the 43-14 win against Tulsa Webster.
Brayden Scott, Sequoyah — Completed 13 of 24 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns in the 28-0 win against Hilldale.
Kyle Helsley, Sequoyah — Caught three passes for 109 yards and a touchdown against Hilldale.
Sequoyah defense — Sacked Hilldale quarterback Chandler Puckett five times.
Cade Shearwood, Stigler — Rushed for 174 yards on 12 carries and scored three touchdowns, while completing 7 of 11 passes for 132 yards and a TD in the 46-6 win against Valliant.
Tyler Addy, Checotah — Completed 19 of 24 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns in the 35-7 win agianst Eufaula.
Deondre Owens, Checotah — Caught eight passes for 140 yards incluidng two touchdowns on catches of 14 and 20 yards against Eufaula.
Jamaul Cullom, Hilldale — Had 13 tackles including two for a loss and one pass breakup in the 28-0 loss to Sequoyah.
Josh Giem, Hilldale — Had 10 tackles including two for a loss in the game against Sequoyah.
Jordan Presley, Haskell — Ran for 116 yards on nine carries and scored two touchdowns in the 52-10 win against Wellston.
Alex Wheeland, Haskell — Rushed for 104 yards on eight carries and scored twice while passing for another TD in the win against Wellston.
Britt Williams, Haskell — Registered a team-high 15 tackles in the win against Wellston.
Robert Clark, Gore — Completed 11 of 12 passes for 294 yards and five touchdowns of 35, 45, 31, 15 and 39 yards in the 79-0 win against Haileyville.
Eric Casey, Vian — Ran for 119 yards on six carries and scored twice in the 56-7 win against Harshorne.
Justin Wright, Warner — Gained 111 yards on 11 carries and scored two touchdowns in the 34-20 win against Afton.
Logan Ohl, Gore — Ran for 93 yards on four carries and scored a touchdown against Haileyville.
Ben Smith, Gore — Had three carries for 99 yards and two touchdowns in the win against Haileyville.
C.J. Lehnick, Webbers Falls — Scored three touchdowns on 10 carries and scored three touchdowns, caught two passes for 28 yards inlcuding a TD and returned an interception 45 yards for a TD in the 52-21 win against Southwest Covenant.