MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Sports

October 28, 2012

PLAYER OF THE WEEK/HONOR ROLL Week 9: FGHS senior makes opponents pay

— Fort Gibson’s Jake Gandara knew what was coming.

He was aware that Stilwell was going to focus on him, especially since quarterback and teammate J.R. Singleton had to miss the game because of an injury.

“That was going to put pressure on me to get the offense going,” he said.

From the opening kickoff, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound senior thrived under that pressure as he ran for a game-high 200 yards on 21 carries in the 42-14 win against the Stilwell Indians to earn the Phoenix Player of the Week for the ninth week of the season.

And it started with the opening kickoff.

Stilwell kicked the ball out of bounds on the first two attempts, trying to keep Gandara from getting his hands on it.

“Coach (James Singleton) made them kick it again,” Gandara said. “I wasn’t mad when they kicked it out of bounds.

“Returning kicks is one of my favorite things to do. I enjoy it. I hoped they would kick it to me. I don’t know why I like it, but there’s just something about having the ball in all of that space to work.”

The third time was a charm for Gandara as he fielded the kick on his own 22-yard line and raced 78 yards for a touchdown to jump start the Tigers.

“If I had been them, I would’ve continued to kick it away from Jake,” the elder Singleton said. “Jake’s a phenomenal talent. When we’ve needed some tough yardage, he’s been there for us.”

When the season began against Tahlequah, Gandara was nursing a high ankle sprain that limited his appearance on the offensive line of scrimmage. By week two against rival Hilldale, he was at full strength and raring to go.

“I’d get out there during practice and do some running and cutting,” he said. “I also went through a little rehab. The ankle was weak against Tahlequah, but it’s healed now.”

After scoring on TD runs of 1 and 78 yards against Stilwell on Friday, he now has 1,370 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns.

“He has great vision and acceleration,” the elder Singleton said. “He committed to getting in the weight room to gain weight so he could run better between the tackles. He put on 10 pounds and that’s made a huge difference in his strength.

“He played at 173-174 pounds last season and he would kind of bounce outside on his runs. Now, he gets the tough yardage when we need him to do so. He’s a complete back now.”

Gandara and the Tigers put their 8-1 overall record and 5-1 mark in 4A-3 against Sallisaw (6-3, 4-2) on Friday at Leo Donahue-Tiger Stadium in the regular season finale. A win assures the Tigers a home playoff game.

James Singleton doesn’t have to worry about his running back.

“Our expectations are really high for him on Fridays,” the Fort Gibson coach said. “He rises to the occasion when we need him.”

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