By Tommy Cobb
The last time Fort Gibson and Wagoner met, the Bulldogs were on their way to a state championship while first-year head coach James Singleton was in the process of turning around a Fort Gibson program that had suffered five straight losing seasons.
The result was a 57-14 first round playoff exit for the Tigers, who will face Wagoner tonight at W. L. Odom Stadium. It will be the third time in the last four years that Fort Gibson will travel north to face the Bulldogs in a first-round contest.
Wagoner has continued its success over the past two years. Fort Gibson’s program has grown into one that has gone from hoping not to get blown out to thinking it can win.
“We are an up and coming program,” said Fort Gibson coach James Singleton. “Wagoner is the benchmark of what 4A schools want to achieve. Our improvement has our kids thinking they can go in and win.”
Fort Gibson has several players who started two years ago against Wagoner. They have grown with a program that, despite finishing fourth in District 4A-4, was picked to win by many and went to overtime with runner-up Cascia Hall.
“Of course we’re disappointed in how we finished,” Singleton said. “But every team we lost to is ranked in the top 10. You have to play teams like Wagoner at some point, so it doesn’t matter that it’s a first-round game.”
Another reason Fort Gibson is feeling confident is quarterback J.R. Singleton. He has started the last three years, but missed the playoffs due to week 10 injuries. Singleton will finally get to play in his first playoff contest.
“It’s good to be able to say we’re going into the playoffs with our starting quarterback healthy,” James Singleton said.
While the Tigers have players who experienced the last Wagoner-Fort Gibson contest, Wagoner has very few that were starters on that team. The Bulldogs have replaced starters nearly each season but has seen very little fall off in success.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get up for every regular season game when you’ve had the success we’ve had,” said Wagoner coach Dale Condict. “But when the playoffs get here, there’s a different feeling. Our players have no problem getting up for a playoff game.”
Wagoner also has a little motivation that stems back to its first scrimmage of the season, in which McAlester and Fort Gibson made the Bulldogs appear to be a team that didn’t have what it did the past few years.
“We received a lot of negative feedback from a lot of different people after that scrimmage,” Condict said. “Our players and coaches are proud of this program and even though it was a scrimmage, we felt embarrassed.”
Condict says most of his players are not that familiar with the two previous meetings with Fort Gibson, but their performance against the Tigers in the scrimmage may have his team wanting to right that bad night in August.
“Coach Singleton has given a vision to what they want to do,” Condict said. “They are building a program. I think the biggest difference in two years ago and now, is that they will come in believing they have a chance to win.”
The winner of tonight’s game gets the winner between Woodward and Ada in a game being played at Ada, also tonight.