GROVE- Tahlequah head coach Charlie Cooper may be making his return to Delaware County, but it’s probably not the triumphant one he was hoping for.
Cooper, in his second stint as the Tigers’ head man, has had his share of good times in this area; first as a player at Grove under the legendary Paul Davis, and in recent years as an assistant coach at Jay High School under Shane Holland.
In between Cooper, now 68, has racked up an impressive record as a head coach himself. Cooper’s first stint as a head coach was at JopLin Memorial High from 1968-1975, but his most successful run came in the 1980s in Tahlequah.
There, Cooper racked up a 93-56 record from 1980-1992, including a state runner-up finish in 1989. In later years, Cooper was a head coach at Rogers (Ark.) as well as an assistant at Northeastern State University. Cooper graduated from GHS in 1960.
Cooper came out of retirement this spring as a replacement for Tuffy Thornton and so far, it has not been a successful season for the Tigers. The season began with promise for Tahlequah after a 21-14 loss in overtime to Tulsa Central to start district play. The Tigers then followed that up with a 20-6 win over Pryor.
But an upset loss to the Edison Eagles, 21-9, in week six seems to have sent Tahlequah into a tailspin. In their past three games against Coweta, East Central and Claremore, all losses, the Tigers have been outscored 136-20.
Things don’t figure to get any easier against a Grove team that could make a claim to being one of the best third place teams in 5A. Last week’s 38-35 loss to the fourth-ranked East Central Cardinals denied the Ridgerunners a shot at the District 5A-4 title. Grove’s three losses this season have been by a combined seven points, including losses to top-ranked 4A squad Wagoner (30-29), and seventh-ranked Coweta (18-15).
Friday’s game will have no influence on where the Ridgerunners will finish in the district nor will it influence who Grove will face in the first round of the playoffs. That will be determined by the big showdown between the Tulsa Washington Hornets and the McAlester Buffaloes. Both teams are undefeated in district play and ranked in the top-three in the latest Associated Press poll.
The winner of Friday’s contest will claim the district title, while the loser will finish in second, earning a matchup with the Ridgerunners next week.
Although the stakes in Friday’s game will not be high, the Ridgerunners will still be motivated to send off their 19 seniors in style in their final regular season home game.
Those seniors include: Bryce Armstrong, Ryan Ware, Tylor Leffel, Jimmy Roach, Levi Wangen, Buck Maples, Tyler Crossley, Chad Rainbolt, Trent Phillips, Jarrod Leach, Bobby Harris, Stephen Whitesell, Brad Fitzgibbon, Michael Fenlon, Kyle Lovelady, Shaun Innocenti, Tyler Johnson, Hunter Hays, and Brody Scott.
Senior Night activities will begin at seven, with kickoff to follow at 7:30.
Notable: Running back Buck Maples has 883 yards rushing on the season and will be looking to reach the 1,000-yard plateau in Friday’s game… The Ridgerunners are 3-1 at home on the season…Tahlequah is looking to avoid a second consecutive two-win season…Kyle Summerfield's 55-yard interception return touchdown against East Central was the Ridgerunners' fifth defensive touchdown of the season.