The town of Poteau, Oklahoma claims a population of nearly 9,000 people and it’s a safe bet that all or nearly everyone in that Leflore County community made the three and a half hour trek to Edmond for the recent Class 4A football state championship.
“If you were at our game you saw pretty much the whole town of Poteau there,” claimed head coach Greg Werner. “I promise you, I would put up what we saw Friday night against any town in Oklahoma because I’m going to tell you, it was an unbelievable experience.”
The celebration didn’t end at Wantland Stadium, either. The Pirates were treated to a hero’s welcome when they returned to town as well.
“We were led into town by 20 different emergency vehicles,” said Werner. “The streets were lined and packed with people. People were everywhere. It was just an incredible experience and one our players and coaches will never forget because our town truly turned out for our kids.”
It’s also the first state championship for the veteran Werner, who has coached various prep teams in Oklahoma and Arkansas for the past 31 years.
“A lot of great football coaches never win a state title and I feel very lucky and humble to have won one,” remarked Werner. “We have a great group of kids and coaches. It was a special year.”
It might be Werner’s first state title, but it’s not his first tenure at Poteau. He was the Pirates’ head coach from 2012-2014 before moving on to large-class football in Arkansas for three seasons. He returned to Oklahoma, and after a one-year stint at Hilldale, jumped at the opportunity to return to Poteau.
“It’s kind of weird to come back to some place you’ve already been, but it was good timing with how things worked out. It’s been a great experience.”
The 13-1 Pirates were led by their defense all season long. They gave up less than 10 points per game and allowed only 17 points in their final three playoff games, which included a hard-fought win in the semifinals over traditional power Wagoner, 7-3, in a game played in a driving rainstorm.
“They were special this year,” said Werner of the defense. “It’s what we hang our hat on here at Poteau. Those guys took it to heart. We relied on them and they took that challenge and did a great job.”