Legendary football coach A.M. “Cab” Callaway once said during his tenure (1944-52) that he found that Wagoner players just hated to lose.

That tradition continues today for the maroon and black, especially following the Class 4A semifinal loss to Poteau, 7-3 on Friday, Nov. 30.

There were many stages of disappointment after the Poteau loss and that was understandable. Wagoner had got better as the year went on and had a real shot at its fifth State title in this decade.

However, it was not to be as the Pirates prevailed in a hard fought game during a constant rain.

Wagoner finished its season at 10-3. Those that follow the Bulldogs understand how much better the defense played after the first two games. That improvement made Wagoner a 4A title contender.

After giving up a combined 69 points against rival Coweta and Pryor, Wagoner surrendered just under 11 points a game the rest of the way. That total would have been even lower had foes not gotten late scores against the second and third string Bulldogs.

What was the reason for the sudden turnabout after the 42-41 Pryor loss on Sept. 13?

“After the Pryor game, we had a ‘come to Jesus moment’ with our guys on defense,” said Wagoner defensive coordinator Ryan Keenom. “We wanted them to focus on effort and preparation. We started to make that a point of emphasis…playing to the whistle. After that, we went on a string where the first team defense didn’t get scored on.”

Oologah and Bristow managed to score on the first string, but from the third game on the Bulldogs were a different team now.

That same grit and determination toppled a great Bethany team on Nov. 22 and almost held off a strong Poteau squad in the playoffs the following week.

“Going into the playoffs, we made a lot of strides,” Keenom added. “We had a lot of new pieces. We started two inexperienced inside linebackers when senior Haeden Schoolcraft went down. A lot of our youth developed over the year. We held the top two offenses in 4A to 14 and 7 points.”

There are many that feel the semifinal played at Allan Trimble Stadium in a driving rain featured the two best teams left in the bracket.

“I would be surprised if they (Poteau) didn’t win the (championship) game by 14 points,” Keenom said.

The future looks bright for the Bulldog defense.

“The great thing for us is we started nine juniors on defense,” Keenom said. “We will be a lot more experienced and deep. We’ll need to find new guys in the secondary.

“That makes you see the glass as half full and have extremely high expectations for next year.”

Were there any surprises for Keenom?

“Isaac Smith had a great football season. I think he can play Division I and has natural ability,” he said of the 6-foot-6, 210-pound junior. “He’s about the best I’ve had the pleasure to coach.”

Junior linebacker Kaden Charboneau got stronger and stronger as the year went on. Juniors Trey Gause and Nunu Clayton were solid at linebacker, too.

“They were disappointed (after the loss) and I told them to remember that feeling when I get them in the (off-season) weight room,” Keenom concluded.

Next year’s success begins during off-season works.