While the Ada High football team tries to turn around its running game this week, the Cougars will also have the task of slowing down Harrah’s solid ground attack when the two teams collide in a District 4A-2 matchup.

Kickoff for the key fall break clash is set for 7 p.m. tonight at Evans Field.

The host Panthers enter the contest 4-2 overall and 2-1 in 4A-2 play, while Ada stands at 2-4 overall and 1-2 in the district.

“It’s a very important game. We’ve kind of dug ourselves a hole so we really need to go get 15 on them,” Ada head coach Brad O’Steen said matter-of-factly. “Of course you want to win first, but we need those max 15 district points too.”

To have a chance, O’Steen knows all too well his team has to be able to run the football. The Cougars finished with a grand total of TWO rushing yards in last week’s 26-14 loss to host John Marshall. That is believed to be one of the school records a team would prefer not to set.

“That’s been our main focus this week in practice, getting our running game going. We’ve been able to throw the football on everybody. We have to be able to run the football,” he said. “The kids have responded this week. We’ve had a really good week of practice.”

O’Steen said it’s just not one piece of the running game puzzle that isn’t working.

“Sometimes it’s the running back not seeing the hole. Sometimes it’s the fullback not getting his block. Sometimes it’s one of the offensive linemen missing their block,” he explained. “A lot of plays we have four to five or six guys doing a really good job but those one or two guys can kill the play,” he explained. “We have to be more consistent or we’re going to continue to struggle. We just have to keep plugging away and keep working hard.”

It will help to have Ada’s leading rusher — junior Darius Gilmore — back in the starting lineup. Gilmore missed last week’s game with an injury. In five games this season, Gilmore has rushed for 316 yards and three touchdowns. Next for Ada is sophomore Xander Rhynes, who had picked up 116 yards on 22 tries.

Once the Cougars fix their rushing game, quarterback Carter Freeland and the AHS passing game — which is already solid — will improve.

“It will help our passing game big-time. It directly relates to the passing game. If the defense has to start keeping people closer to the box to stop the run, it helps open up our play-action stuff. And when those safeties have to move up, it only helps our receivers,” O’Steen said.

Before this season, Harrah hadn’t won more than three games since 2015. In the last two years combined the Panthers were a combined 4-15. This year Harrah dropped a 19-15 decision to Seminole, before reeling off four straight wins (over Bridge Creek, McLoud, Classen SAS and John Marshall) by a combined score of 123-14.

Top-ranked Tuttle topped Harrah 49-13 in Week 6.

“Harrah is a good ballclub. They’ve improved from last year. They’re running the football well and really had a lot of success early,” O’Steen said.

The HHS offense centers around senior tailback Nick Moore, who has 967 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Senior quarterback Nolan Boone Jr. isn’t shy about taking off with the ball either, rushing for 230 yards and four scores.

Mort Barber and Devon MaCaraig each have 90 rushing yards, while Kade Jackson — listed as a receiver — has 82.

“They’re a big-time run team,” O’Steen said.

Harrah’s top linemen include left guard Colton Whitnah (5-10, 200), center Joseph Norton (5-10, 360).

When the Panthers want to pass the ball, Boone Jr.’s favorite target has been senior Austin Coley, who has 12 catches for 147 yards. No other HHS receiver has more than 25 yards.

On defense, Harrah employs a 3-4 look. It’s nothing Ada hasn’t seen before. Every day.

“They run a 3-4. They’re very similar to us. They like to slant and run a lot of man coverage,” O’Steen said.

O’Steen said his team just needs to get back to the basics to turn things around.

“It’s two basic fundamentals — blocking and tackling — and we’re not very good at them right now,” he said. “We just need to go play four quarters. We have not played four quarters yet. We have to tie four quarters together.”

The Cougars walloped Harrah 49-7 last year at Norris Field. Ada leads the all-time series 6-1-0.

Injury Report

The Ada High coaching staff recently learned that senior playmaker Caden Ross — one of the team’s leaders on defense — will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. It was originally thought to be an MCL injury, but a recent MRI showed a tear in the ACL.

Unbelievably, Ross has been playing with the injury off and on ever since it happened during Ada’s first defensive play against Ardmore in Week 1.

“It’s a tough blow. We’ll miss him for sure,” O’Steen said.

Ross is scheduled to have surgery to repair the knee on Monday.

Sophomore linebacker/fullback Fisher Marr is out tonight after getting his bell rang last week against John Marshall.

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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.

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