It was the fall of 1995. All anyone was talking about all week long was the upcoming Friday night Poteau Pirates' football game against the top-ranked and undefeated Ada Cougars, who featured a tight end who would later play in the National Football League — Jeremy Shockey. Also, Brandon Daniels was the Ada quarterback.
Both teams were 7-0, and it was dubbed as the No. 1 high school game in the state for that week.
Back in those days, you could park in the back of the end zone and have a tailgate party. So, on Thursday night, I loaded my ol' trusty Lazy-Boy recliner in the back of my truck, and I parked right behind the middle of the goal post to ensure my place in history.
I caught a ride to work the next morning. We all went to work early that morning, and worked through the lunch hour so we could get to the bank, cash our checks and be back at the field with our grills at 4 p.m. — 3.5 hours before kickoff. We cooked hamburgers, hot links, brats and hot wings.
Jack Hall, Brad Hall and Jeff “Jedi” Dennis built a platform with a railing to fit over Jack's 1984 long-bed Chevrolet truck so they could see over the fence.
We lined up perfectly along the west end zone, waiting for this huge game. There were people everywhere, even parked up and down Broadway. It was the largest crowd ever for a Poteau game. I heard the crowd was close to 12,000 fans.
When the game started, we hung cowbells all over the fence. Nobody was sitting in their seats. When you looked up into the stands, they appeared to be moving and swaying back and forth. Fans were foaming at the mouth! Left was right, right was left, up was down and down was up, cats and dogs were living together — it was total anarchy!
The game started, and Poteau quarterback Kevin Merritt led the Pirates onto the field. It was just a slugfest.
Both defenses held tough. We all knew this was going to be a 15-round heavyweight boxing fight.
Finally, Poteau got down the field, and got in position to kick a field goal. Still, nobody's sitting down. It was tense. Merritt and running backs Nick McDaniel, John “Dante” Bunch and Cody Hall, thanks to a strong offensive line, helped the Pirates get down to the Ada 27. Kyle Cofer, Poteau's place-kicker, split the uprights for a 44-yard field goal.
We had 78 cowbells hanging from the fence, and started ringing all of them as fast and loud as we could. Then, I heard Gary Morris and Spider Cook yell, “Flag!” There it was, laying on the grass. I thought Jerry Johnston, Poteau's coach, and Merle Moss, Poteau's assistant coach, were going to explode. They moved the ball back five yards for the penalty, making it a 49-yard attempt for Cofer.
Cofer hit the ball. It looked as if it was going to split the uprights once more. We started ringing the cowbells again. Then, the kick fell an inch short of going over the upright. We all went silent, and we couldn't believe it. At halftime, the game was still scoreless.
I finally sat down in my recliner to have me some hot wings and brats, when the Channel 40/29 helicopter landed only about 10 yards away from Jack Hall's truck and started throwing footballs and filming all the fans. I'm telling you this was “The High School Game” of the ages. AC/DC's “Thunderstuck” (J.R. Collins' favorite song) was blairing so loud over the speakers when the Pirates took the field to begin the third quarter, you couldn't hear the helicopter take off!
The second half was a head-knocker, and neither team could score. The game went into double overtime. Poteau ran a sweep right three times in a row to McDaniel who had lineman Jerry Collins leading the way, and McDaniel scored.
The Pirates went for a two-point conversion, and fell just short of the goal line, keeping Poteau ahead 6-0.
Then, the Cougars got the ball. Daniels, Ada's QB, got a 15-yard personal foul penalty for kicking or hitting a Poteau player on Ada's first play from scrimmage. The Pirate defense frustrated Daniels all night long, and his 46-0 record as Ada's starter was in jeopardy.
Then, it happened. Daniels kept the ball and ran around the left side. I think he got hit 12 times, and should have gone down. Somehow, he stayed on his feet and was headed to the end zone. Poteau defenders Chris Odom, Cody Hall and Bunch hit Daniels so hard at the 1-yard line that people in Shady Point could hear the collision. However, somehow Daniels hit paydirt, but he's lying in pain in the end zone. It was discovered that he broke his ankle. The Cougars kicked the PAT, and left town 7-6 victors.
I looked around, and everybody was crying. Morris and Cook, who had been arguing all night long about several calls, were hugging. I walked over, and even Jack Hall had tears in his eyes. I said, “Jack, are you crying?” Jack said, “No, some of my awesomeness just leaked out. Now, leave me be!”
For the record, my allergies were really bad that night. That's why my eyes were watery.
All the players came over to our fence at the end zone, and slapped our hands. They were crying, too, and we had nothing but respect for those Pirate players, who had just played their hearts out. I never will forget the look on lineman Wes Odom's face on that cool October night — he was spent.
I would like to thank every player that night for the most exciting high school football game I've ever seen.
We all gathered ourselves, and I walked home — and left my truck at the stadium all weekend long. I felt like “Kid Lester” from one of the all-time great football movies, “The Best of Times” (1986).
The first thing I did that following Monday morning was I went and got my truck and drove that old recliner right to the dump. Why you ask? It was unlucky, and it had to go!
Winning is not everything, but playing with everything you've got is all you can ask of any player. Football isn't just a game, it's how you live.
Pirate fans, be proud of your team — the players work hard.
La Fiesta Coming Sept. 13
La Fiesta, presented by Friends of Buckley Public Library, will begin at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Donald W. Reynolds Center in Poteau.
There will be great food, cold cervezas and mucho fun.
For additional information, call (918) 647-3833 or (918) 839-4785.
“Beat the Heat Music Fest”
The “Beat the Heat Music Fest” Battle of the Bands Competition will be Sept. 22 at Heavener Runestone Park. The gates will open at 10 a.m., and the event will last to approximately 10:30 p.m.
The entry fee for bands wishing to compete is $50, and the deadline to enter is Sept. 14.
Advanced tickets cost $3, while tickets at the gate will be $5. Children ages 3 and younger will be admitted free. All proceeds will benefit the Boys and Girls Club of LeFlore County.
For additional information, call (918) 647-7136 or email Clay Roper at firstname.lastname@example.org .