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Cougars Headed Back To McAlester
10/06/19 -

If you’re an Ada High football player, what better way to get a bad taste out of your mouth — left by back-to-back losses — than to defeat archrival McAlester on their own turf?

The Cougars will get that chance Friday, when they visit the Buffaloes for a key District 5A-3 matchup. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Hook Eales Field.

It will be Ada’s first trip to McAlester since the 2011 season. McAlester won that contest in a shootout, 59-34. Ada leads the all-time series — which resumed last year after a seven-year hiatus with a 38-13 Cougar win — 61-32-1.

“It’s going to be awesome,” said Ada head coach Chris Berus. “It’s a great, great rivalry game.”

There’s much more at stake than holding bragging rights for a year. It’s a big, albeit early, District 5A-3 matchup. Ada is off to an 0-1 start in district play after a tough 14-13 loss to Coweta, while McAlester got off to a hot start with a 35-7 road win over the Durant Lions for the Buffaloes’ first win of the season.

“It’s a huge district game. This one is going to mean a lot ... when you look at how things are unfolding this year. Not that any district game is bigger than another, but this one is going to have a lot of influence on how the district unfolds the rest of the season,” Berus said.

McAlester is under the direction of first-year head coach Forrest Mazey. Many local football fans might remember Mazey from his playing days as the quarterback at Coalgate High School, where he set school records during his two-year stint at the starter.

Mazey completed 317-of-493 passes for 4,505 yards and 41 touchdowns during a stellar two-year prep run and set a Coalgate single-season record for yardage during his senior campaign in 1999, when he finished 199-of-247 passes for a whopping 2,906 yards and 29 touchdowns.

Mazey led Poteau to a 12-1 record in 2018. He has made coaching stops at Pratt, Kansas; Atoka; and Mangum.

“They have a new head coach that brings a lot of confidence in the program. Coach Mazey is going to have those guys ready to get after it. We’re excited about going over there Friday night and competing,” Berus said.

Under Mazey, McAlester runs a spread offense engineered by senior quarterback Chris Hilton, who has completed 24-of-44 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns in three games. Hilton has also rushed 40 times for 117 yards and another score.

“They are a spread team, but they’ll also get into what we like to call ‘22’ — a double tight end, two-back formation. They like to run the quarterback and he throws the ball extremely well,” Berus said.

Leading the McAlester rushing attack is senior Hayden Franks with 39 carries for 278 yards and a touchdown.

The Buffaloes’ top receivers include junior Gavin Johnson (6-103), sophomore Gage Dollins (5-74) and junior Caleb Squyers (5-66).

“Offensively, they are going to tempo you and make you cover all 53 and a third yards of grass from sideline to sideline, and they’ll take their vertical shots at well. It’s a wide-open attack,” Berus said.

Defensive leaders for McAlester include sophomore Chase Faber (27 tackles) and Johnson (23 tackles). Sophomore defensive back Killian Barnes has four interceptions this year.

“Defensively, they’re going to play a 3-4. They’re going to manipulate safeties versus two-back just to get some extra hats in the box,” Berus said. “They play hard.

“They play with solid fundamentals and a lot of effort.”

The Buffaloes have another familiar face on their coaching staff. Coalgate High School graduate Dustin Newberry, was the Konawa head coach in 2018 where he led the Tigers to a 5-5 mark. He was previously the head football coach at Coalgate from 2013 to 2016 before spending one year as the defensive coordinator at Holdenville in 2017.

Looking back

One of the most frustrating things about Ada’s narrow loss to Coweta is that the Cougars didn’t finish what they started.

Ada had its running game going in the first half and carried a 13-7 lead into the break. But the Cougar offense struggled over the final two quarters.

“I have to give some credit to Coweta. They made some adjustments in their defensive front that gave us some issues running the ball inside,” Berus said. “We have to finish out drives better. As we crossed the 50, things started to fizzle out.”

The Ada coach said he feels like the Cougars can turn things around offensively.

“Staying power is a big thing — being able to find a way to gut out some things to get the ball in scoring position,” he said. “We just need to keep improving on the fundamentals — nothing major. We don’t have to wholesale change anything. It’s just getting better at the things we’re asking our guys to do.”

Even after the subpar second half against the Tigers, the Ada offense is still averaging 253 yards per game. Running back Tyler Peters has rushed for 300 yards and three touchdowns.

Bo Odom leads the team with five catches for 90 yards, while Jake Shannon — who started at quarterback last week — has four catches for 81 yards in two games as a receiver.

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