By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer
This year, the shoe is on the other foot when it comes to defending The Rock.
On Friday, the Hilldale Hornets will travel across the Arkansas River to Leo Donahue Tiger Stadium to play the Fort Gibson Tigers as the school looking to regain the trophy.
“I was told (Monday) that it had been six years since Fort Gibson had won,” said Fort Gibson coach James Singleton. “Now the shoe’s on the other foot.”
For the Hornets, it’s a matter of restoring a dominance that Hilldale had until 2012.
“As long as I’ve been here and when (late Hilldale coach Don) Hendrix was still here, we had it up until last year,” said Hilldale coach Chad Kirkhart said. “As far as regaining it, it’s not something we haven’t had to go get. I guess it adds a little to it.”
Both schools are coming off hard fought victories last Friday. The Tigers beat Tahlequah 42-33 in Tahlequah while the Hornets came from behind with a touchdown with 23 seconds left in the game to beat Stigler 36-30.
“We played pretty good defensively, they had 27 yards rushing I think,” Kirkhart said. “When you spot them nine to start out with, then they strip one and return it for a touchdown, that really didn’t have anything to do with the defense. Things like that we’ve got to shore up.”
Singleton was also pleased with his defense’s overall effort. However, there were some breakdowns that he knows must be corrected if the Tigers are to prevail over the Hornets.
“I know on our end we had some coverage issues that obviously we’re going to work on this week,” Singleton said. “As we watched film, we had guys on the back end trying to do somebody else’s job in the second half where in the first half that wasn’t the case.”
Kirkhart knows the secret to stopping the Tigers on Friday is going to boil down to the basics.
“They like to run the football and (FGHS quarterback J.R.) Singleton being able to throw it, that’s another threat,” Kirkhart said. “Defensively we gotta stop the run and eliminate big plays and that’s every week. They can run it from the I-formation and from the one-back. You’ve gotta play sound defense.”
Coach Singleton has adopted the same philosophy when it comes to halting the Hornets’ offense.
“Obviously, it starts with (Chandler) Puckett,” coach Singleton, J.R.’s father, said. “He’s another athletic quarterback we’re going to have to chase around. The running back (Seth Reheard)’s a very, very physical runner and (Hilldale wide receiver) Bradley Campbell has great hands and runs crisp routes. They’re very explosive on offense.
“We’re the hunted and they’re the hunter. So it’ll be really interesting how it plays out.”