By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer
For the Fort Gibson Tigers, Friday’s game at Sallisaw boils down to one thing – a win puts the Tigers up against the winner of Catoosa and Oologah in the first round of the playoffs while a loss has Fort Gibson headed to Wagoner, the No. 2 team in the Associated Press Class 4A poll.
The Tigers enter the contest with a 4-2 record in District 4A-4, 6-3 overall and No. 9 in the poll, while the Black Diamonds are 5-1 in district, 7-2 on the year and No. 7 in the poll.
“Sallisaw’s a very tradition-rich program,” said Fort Gibson coach James Singleton. “We’re very, very familiar with those guys. They don’t change much.”
While the Tigers will finish third or fourth in 4A-4, coming off a 41-0 win last Friday over Stilwell, the Black Diamonds, a 42-0 victor over Muldrow, are still in the running for the district championship.
Craig Benson, who was the quarterback on the Black Diamonds’ 1980 state championship team, has been Sallisaw’s coach since 2008 and has his team focused on the task at hand.
When asked what the Black Diamonds need to do to be successful on Friday, Benson was quick and to the point – stop Fort Gibson quarterback J.R. Singleton, the coach’s son.
“He’s the best player on their team,” Benson said. “He’s the one that makes them go. They’ve got a lot of other good players but J.R. makes them tick.
“They’re more versatile with him, they don’t have (Jake) Gandara back there so they’re using J.R. to do a run or pass and he’s done an excellent job.”
The game will be a homecoming of sorts for coach Singleton, who was the Black Diamonds’ offensive coordinator and offensive line coach from 2000-05. In the years since he’s been gone, Singleton has noticed that not much has changed.
“The last three or four years, they were more of a spread team offensively,” he said. “This year, they’ve kind of gone back to the way they used to be when I was there – more of a two-back, power-type offense.”
That power starts with senior Cale Wilson who has rushed for 1,297 yards on 42 carries and 14 touchdowns. For a change of pace, the Black Diamonds will hand the ball off to senior Jaden Davenport who has piled up 440 yards on 96 carries and four TDs.
The quarterback is sophomore Quint Scoufos who has completed 54 of 104 passes for 939 yards and eight touchdowns and only one interception.
“When you get to week 10, you kind of know what everybody’s doing,” Singleton said. “You’ve talked to other coaches in the district and things like that.”
But Benson is also aware not to overlook any of the Tigers’ other weapons.
“The (Jordan) London kid is as good as good a kid as we’ll ever face,” he said. “You think back to last year and he had four interceptions as a sophomore against us. He’s also a great receiver and defensive back. They also play a lot of defensive linemen, they roll them in and out, and they always stay fresh and those guys for the most part are all the same player – all eight of them. Like I tell our kids – it should be a good donnybrook.”
And Benson is reminding his team all week about the goal it set at the beginning of the season and that the goal is still attainable.
“However you want to slice it, we can still end up in a three-way tie with Poteau and Cascia Hall,” Benson said. “That’s what we’ve talked about – where it puts us in the race. The other thing is it’s an important district game for us. You want to win every one of them and that’s the approach we’re taking.”