By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer
If one good thing came out of Fort Gibson’s 34-28 overtime loss to Cascia Hall last Friday it is that the Tigers know where they stand as far as the postseason goes.
Fort Gibson, No. 9 in the Associated Press Class 4A poll, is 5-3 on the year, 3-2 in District 4A-4, and faces Stilwell (3-5, 2-3) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Leo Donahue/Tiger Stadium. A win over the Indians and the Tigers lock up a playoff spot.
“This is a must-win game for us,” said Fort Gibson coach James Singleton. “Just a little bit about Stilwell – they were beating Cascia Hall 7-0 going into the fourth quarter of their game. Against Sallisaw, it was 21-14 going into the fourth quarter so they’ve played all of our upper-echelon type teams really, really close, just haven’t been able to close them out.
“So it’s important our kids understand that it’s kind of a no tomorrow-type approach to make sure we get into the playoffs.”
Should the Tigers beat the Indians on Friday and Sallisaw next week, Fort Gibson would finish third in the district and play the No. 2 team in 4A-3, which is still a fight between Catoosa, Cleveland and Oologah, in the first round of the playoffs. A loss in either game and Fort Gibson would more than likely finish fourth and have to travel to Wagoner whom the Tigers have not defeated since the 2004 season opener.
“Second place is out of the question,” Singleton said about a possible first-round playoff game at home. “We had to beat Cascia to finish second. There’s no mathematical way we can finish second unless there’s some upsets that take place which I don’t foresee happening out of the top two teams.”
The Tigers trailed Cascia Hall 28-7 with 2:55 left in the third quarter but rallied to tie the game on J.R. Singleton’s 1-yard run, and Daniel Mielnik’s extra point, with 18 seconds remaining in regulation.
“A lot of teams in that situation would have folded and called it a night,” the coach said. “Our kids battled back but just came up short in the overtime. It was kind of a heartbreaker but at the same time, we’re proud of the way the kids played.”
Not finishing games, and making mistakes in crucial situations, are two things the coach is impressing on his team that need correcting heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.
“That’s something we really want to focus on the next couple of weeks,” Singleton said. “We need to play for four quarters and then some of these close losses will start going our way a little bit. We just need to protect the football and move the chains.
“That’s kind of been a little bit of our Achilles heel. In some key situations, we’ve had some three-and-outs and in this kind of game, we need to control the football. ”