By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer
The Fort Gibson Tigers aren’t exactly where they wanted to be at the beginning of the season heading into the first round of the Class 4A playoffs, but there are 16 other schools whose seasons are done that wouldn’t mind trading places with them.
The Tigers (6-4) finished in fourth place in District 4A-4, meaning they will head to Wagoner, 10-0 on the year and No. 2 in the final Associated Press 4A poll, to open the playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“We’re ready to go,” said Fort Gibson coach James Singleton. “We’re one of the 16 teams and we have a chance to go win a gold ball. There were 16 schools that were packing up (Monday) and we’re not.”
For the first time since the 2009 season, the Bulldogs, the District 4A-3 champions, have no surprises when it comes to moving the football. Senior Lawrence Evitt, who ran for 2,980 yards last year, is the featured back again this year in Wagoner’s attack, having rushed for 1,783 yards on 159 carries while reaching the end zone 22 times.
“Lawrence is a great athlete,” Singleton said. “He’s a burner, a 4.38 guy. There’s not a lot of those in the state of Oklahoma so it’s not like (Wagoner coach Dale Condict) is plugging in an ordinary guy. The guys he’s plugging in are going on to play Division I football.”
The Tigers are looking to remove from their minds what happened to them last Friday. Fort Gibson committed six turnovers in a 47-28 loss at Sallisaw and Singleton knows if that happens Friday, his guys will be cleaning out their lockers on Saturday.
“You kind of want to ring it up as one of those nights,” Singleton said. “We had some big drops in key situations.”
Wagoner, on the other hand, enters the postseason fresh off a 31-15 win over Vinita. While the Bulldogs completed their first undefeated regular season since 2010, to a man they feel there best football is yet to come.
“Even in our players and coaches minds, there’s more room for improvement than we’ve normally had at this point and time,” Condict said. “To be honest, I’m not sure that can’t be a good thing, as long as we know we still need to and can improve. I don’t feel by any means we’ve played our best game yet.”
And while the Tigers’ defense will focus on limiting Evitt’s production, the Bulldogs will be looking to keep Fort Gibson quarterback J.R. Singleton in check. Coach Singleton’s son, in his third year as a starter, has completed 84 of 180 attempts for 1,569 yards while rushing for 875 yards on 137 carries and 17 touchdowns.
“Beyond just his skill set, you see the competitor in him,” Condict said. “You see his toughness and I’m sure that spills over into the other players.”
While on paper this is a matchup between a first-place from one district and fourth-place team from another, Condict is emphasizing to his squad that the placing does not tell the story about the opponent.
“The scary thing for us is I don’t think that district put out a fourth-place team this year,” Condict said. “I think the caliber of opponent we have this year is better that in previous years. That’s what great about playoffs – it’s all going to play out.”