When I sat down to write about Friday’s Class 4A state championship game, the plan was to churn out a story about the Ada Cougars wrapping their arms around the football program’s 20th gold ball.

Things didn’t go according to my plan or the plans of the hundreds of fans that filled the entire visitor side of the Choctaw High School football stadium.

Heritage Hall, a private school juggernaut who had scored 128 points (that’s 42.6 ppg) in its first three playoff wins, turned back the Cougars 14-0 to win its third state championship over the past four years.

By the way, I’m still in awe of the Ada faithful that packed half of that stadium out. The Cougar crowd was probably three times as big as Heritage Hall’s. It was a site to behold. The chatter in the press box was that Ada fans began arriving between 3:30 and 4 p.m. 

The Cougars might have absorbed that tough loss, but nobody can call any member of the 2017 football team losers. They just played so hard and even folks not associated with AHS athletics took notice.

They just play like winners. The Cougars battled toe-to-toe with the super Chargers, and were a few plays from coming out on top.

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t know if they could make this kind of a run back in August. Many had asked how I thought the Cougars would do this season back then. I told them it was way too early to predict. I knew they had some great athletes for sure. But there were definitely question marks.

Chris Berus had been hanging out in Arkansas for a couple of years before arriving to coach the Cougars last summer. Could he and the rest of the new coaches gel quickly enough to get the Ada train a-rollin’? Could the Ada players learn a completely new system on offense and defense and gel themselves in time to make a serious playoff run? A big transformation had to take place in a short amount of time — not to mention the amount of hard work that had to be done.

Anyone close to the Ada football team could see how the group came together more and more each week.  It’s sort of cliché for a coach to say his goal is to see his team get better after every ballgame. For the most part, I think, the Cougars did just that (except for that debacle at Tuttle, but that turned out to be just a blip on the radar).

There were those outside the Cougar football circle who doubted the team before every challenge this season. Most Class 4A football fans and pundits weren’t believers all the way to the end. Ada proved them wrong nearly every time. For instance:

• There’s no way Ada can beat a solid team like Bethany this early in the season. Check.

• A win over host Blanchard to capture a District 4A-2 championship is out of the question. Check.

• Don’t be surprised if Elgin doesn’t upset the Cougars in the first round of the playoffs. Check.

• Oologah has too much postseason experience and Ada has no chance against that defense. Check.

• It’s too hard to beat a good team twice and Bethany has much improved since that first meeting. Check.

• Ada won’t be able to keep pace with Heritage Hall in the state championship. “Not trying to throw shade at Ada. They are playing well right now. I just didn’t think they are among the best teams in 4A this year,” said one member of the statewide media days before the title game. Check again.

The 21 seniors on Ada’s final football roster left a big footprint on the program. They’ll surely be missed. It was a fun ride and I am super glad I was a small part of it.

“I’m so proud of that senior class, to believe in what we were doing and to set the foundation for the future,” Berus said. “You can’t take anything away with the achievements and accomplishments of our kids.”

I’m willing to bet a group of the underclassmen that played well for the Cougars this year are already anticipating getting to back to work for the 2018 season.

“I believe this is just the beginning of great things to come,” Berus said. “It was fun to see a lot of younger guys be involved and be a part of what went on this season. Now we have a foundation to build on.”

Berus came in late last year. But he and his great coaching staff will be ahead of the preparation game from here on out.

“We’ve done this in eight or nine months. Now we get to throw an offseason into it as well as a full spring. We’re going to build on this,” he said.

The future appears bright. Maybe I’ll get a chance to write about the Cougars hoisting up a gold ball sooner than later.

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Jeff Cali has been covering sports in the Ada area since the mid-90s. He graduated from Byng High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from East Central University.