By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer
Friday night’s game between the Fort Gibson Tigers and the Poteau Pirates will be nothing less than a clash of the titans.
The Tigers (4-1) and Pirates (5-0) are both 2-0 in District 4A-4 action this season, tied with Muldrow for first place, with Poteau No. 7 and Fort Gibson No. 8 in this week’s Associated Press Class 4A prep football poll.
“Offensively, they’re putting up a lot of points,” said Fort Gibson coach James Singleton, “Defensively, they’re very big up front – very, very physical. It’ll be a great challenge for us.”
Last season, when the two schools met in Poteau, it was the Jake Gandara show as the 2012 Phoenix Player of the Year ran through the Pirates’ defense for 230 yards on 16 carries and five touchdowns, including a 90-yard burst on the final play of the second quarter which game the Tigers the lead for good as Fort Gibson beat Poteau 49-21. Friday’s game should be another offensive showcase as Poteau is the top scoring team in the district with 216 points (43.2 points per game) while Fort Gibson second with 165 points (33 ppg).
Both offenses feature the quarterback as the team’s leading rusher as Fort Gibson’s J.R. Singleton, the coach’s son who ran for 101 yards on 12 carries in last year’s game, has rushed this year for 510 yards on 64 carries with eight touchdowns while Poteau’s Jace Pitchford has carried the ball 62 times for 388 yards and 7 TDs. When throwing the ball, J.R. has completed 38 of 80 attempts for 663 yards with seven TDs and five interceptions while Pitchford is 29-of-49 for 415 yards with 6 TDs and only one interception.
“The past two years we’ve played them it’s been a shootout,” said the Tigers’ junior quarterback. “Back-and-forth, back-and-fort scoring so I think this game is going to be about defense this week.”
With the defense on alert, the Tigers might have the advantage on that side of the line of scrimmage. Fort Gibson is the No. 1 team in 4A-4 in scoring defense, holding the opposition to and average of 17.8 points per game, while No. 2 is Poteau, surrendering an average of 21.8 ppg.
Pitchford could bail out the Pirates should their offense become stagnant as the senior, who doubles at cornerback when Poteau’s on defense, is the team’s punter and is averaging 42.1 yards per punt. Not to be outdone, the Tigers’ Daniel Mielnik is booting the football at an average of 39.8 yards per punt.
“Both our punters are very, very good,” said Fort Gibson’s coach. “Of course, Pitchford is also a runner out of punt formation. So you not only have to just cover, you have to make sure he punts the ball.”
One key in the Tigers’ offensive arsenal in the versatility in the running game. Besides J.R., Michael Richey has totaled 335 yards on 48 carries, an average of 7.1 yards per carries, and Chris Warren is averaging 5.4 yards per carry, 221 yards on 41 rushes.
The Pirates have another horse in their backfield that is capable of handling the load. Roger Barcheers has totaled 296 yards, a 4.3 per-carry average.
“We have to play good gap-sound defense,” J.R. said. “We need to really work on containing (Pitchford). He kind of reminds me of a mini Johnny Manziel.
“On defense, we have a lot of guys that can go both ways and that really helps out a lot that we can rotate guys in and out to keep them fresh.”