By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
FORT GIBSON – With Jake Gandara’s big plays the past several years tucked in a graduation gown, James Singleton is on the lookout for some playmakers to fill that void.
The Tigers head coach found them spread among several candidates in Thursday’s Red-White Game to cap Fort Gibson’s spring drills at Leo Donahue Tiger Stadium which ended in a 21-20 Red victory.
With Gandara, the All-Phoenix MVP and Central Oklahoma signee who had 2,334 yards rushing and 30 touchdowns playing the role of spectator, the race was on to fill that void.
Quarterback J.R. Singleton is one. His 80-yard scamper straight up the middle of the White defense for a second-half score looked like it might be the longest run from scrimmage until White running back Kyle Martin broke one 92 yards late on his team’s final possession. Johan Chavez, the only player who wasn’t going to lose this game, did, sort of, missing on his final of six extra points as the kicker for both teams.
Martin ended up with 111 yards on 6 carries.
“Martin is one of four of five guys we really like at that tailback position,” coach Singleton said. “Each one brings a different set of strengths. We’ve got some power guys, some multi-guys, some speed guys, so as coaches we’ve got to identify what part of the puzzle they are.”
Red running back T.J. Grabel had 57 yards on 8 carries, including a 24-yard touchdown and another Red back, Tristan Johnson, had 41 yards on 3 carries.
J.R. Singleton, returning for his third season behind center, was 6-of-7 for 105 yards passing for the Red, including a 16-yard touchdown pass to Will Rumbley. His White counterpart, Jordan London, was 6-of-9 for 112 yards and a 15-yard touchdown to Hayden Perry, but was intercepted once, by Rumbley.
Also for the White, Bailey Torix was 3-of-5 for 60 yards and a pick by Wrangler Smith. Corey Pendergraft threw one pass for 3 yards for the Red.
London shifted to receiver – where he will line up if Singleton remains the starter behind center – and caught a 50-yard pass from Torix. Perry had the best night among receivers with three catches for 65 yards.
“Jordan’s a great receiver but he can do a lot of things. He’s kind of our slash guy and as this offense evolves, he’ll be more a part of it,” coach Singleton said.
On defense, Michael Richey, playing strong side linebacker for the Red, had three tackles for losses. For the White, weakside backer Jon Terronez had two as did Perry, another outside backer. Red defensive lineman Grady Mosteller also had two for losses.
“Collectively on both sides of the ball we have a lot more depth,” the head coach said. “One thing we’ve told the kids in the past is you’re only a play away in case there’s an injury. That’s kind of flipped to if you don’t play the way we want you to, we’ve got someone else who will.”
He was happy with the physicality on all sides.
“The Anadarko (quarterfinal loss) last year was the most physical I’ve seen us play and in the spring that’s been picked up with not only our veteran guys but our young guys. They’re playing fast, they’re playing physical, they’re playing downhill – all those things we’ve been trying to coach them to do as a group now they’re staring to do it more so than as individual players,” the coach said.
There were some negatives, though. Twice the coaches intentionally extended drives with intentionally bad-call penalties on the defense and they led to scores.
“One thing we needed to work on from last year is overcoming adversity. So we thought in cases where things were going well we’d throw a curve to see if they would play poised and they didn’t, so we have to work on that,” the coach said.
Fort Gibson is in a team camp next week at Keys with Vian and Stilwell.