FORT GIBSON – When the teams broke for halftime in Friday night‚s District 4A-4 bout with Sallisaw owning a 1714 edge, there were hopes the Black Diamonds would end their season-long losing streak. But Sallisaw struggled in the second half, losing 41-23 to the Fort Gibson Tigers.
The Sallisaw defense was on point to start the game, including recovering a forced fumble. The offense converted the turnover into an early seven-point lead. Along with another touchdown and a field goal by Christian Taylor, the Black Diamonds entered the second half up 17-14.
But the Tigers made adjustments to their running game in the second half, and Sallisaw wasn‚t able to keep Fort Gibson from moving the football, enabling the Tigers to post 27 points in the second half. The Fort Gibson defense shut down Sallisaw‚s offense in the second half, holding the Black Diamonds to a lone touchdown on a trick play.
Although it was the ninth setback in his inaugural season, Sallisaw head coach Mark Hutson focused on the positive takeaways, while acknowledging that his team wasn‚t happy settling for another loss.
“I really like the way that we started the game,” Hutson exclaimed. “We started with a burst of energy and a lot of great effort. We deferred, and the defense created a turnover – Noah Flores stripped the quarterback. We were able to recover that fumble and go put it in the endzone. With the PAT, we made it seven to nothing.
“The second half we came out, we drove the ball down to fourth and two, and they made some adjustments. They were able to run the ball, and we weren‚t able to stop them on some plays, and they executed in the second half and we didn‚t execute there.”
The Sallisaw team that showed up did have flashes of greatness, but the Black Diamonds just couldn‚t string them together long enough to change the outcome.
“It was disappointing to lose, but the effort, the teamwork – them working together – that was a good feeling on those parts. The losing part, not so much, but just seeing the team keep on fighting, keep giving effort, even our youngsters that were hurt and on the sidelines were into the game, and they were cheering their teammates and made it an exciting game,” Hutson said.
Some of the biggest improvements this year were visible in the offensive and defensive linemen. After a season of fighting in the trenches, the players‚ gained knowledge only earned the hard way on the importance of building strength and their desire to win.
“Mike Maust, he has really improved in the offensive line this season, and he‚s really improved on the defensive line. He might be the most improved at both of those positions on the offense and defensive line. Mike just keeps improving each week and playing hard, and it‚s been great,” Hutson said.
“Caleb Cowan, our senior, he‚s had some tackles for a loss, and he continues to pressure the quarterback, and it was good to have him back. Noah Flores – he goes both ways – he doesn‚t come off the field. He plays O-line and D-line, and Noah‚s just been relentless with his effort. Those three really jump out right now as the leading linemen.”
The Sallisaw offense was led again by new starting quarterback Jackson Harris, who was 8 of 21 passing for 38 yards, along with six carries for 29 yards. The top offensive players on the night were Broque Oft with two carries for 17 yards and two catches for 10 yards; Cole Stephens, who carried the ball 14 times for 99 yards and caught three passes for 12 yards; and Caleb Cowen had five carries for 18 yards and a TD.
Sim Kilpatrick had one carry for seven yards and three receptions for 15 yards. Kilpatrick returned two kickoffs, one for 16 yards and a 55-yarder on a trick play that he took to the house for a touchdown in the third quarter.
The Black Diamond defense was led by Kiowa Coffman‚s 13 tackles, followed by Cole Stephens‚ 10 tackles and 2 pass break ups, Parker Pratt with 11 tackles, Parker Jackson with six tackles and a fumble recovery, Braxton Lamb with nine tackles and Max Stump with five tackles and an interception on the night.
The next Black Diamond game is the last game of the season, a home finale against the Madill Wildcats. It will be Senior Night with a special tribute before the game honoring Sallisaw‚s 1981 state championship team at 6 p.m. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.