STILLWATER — Steven Thompson grabbed the gold ball and stretched it as far over his head as he could.
From the lows Carl Albert went through early in the year, the Titans ascended as high as they could've Saturday, claiming an unlikely Class 5A state title with a 24-8 win over Tulsa East Central at Boone Pickens Stadium.
Before the season, Carl Albert defensive coordinator Mike Corley was diagnosed with cancer.
The Titans then suffered through a disastrous 1-5 start that left them having to win out just to make the playoffs.
Carl Albert steamrolled through its final four games to make the playoffs and then rolled through the postseason on the back of Thompson and Corley's defense.
Thompson, Carl Albert's junior quarterback, had been stellar in each of the Titans first three playoff games and was again against the Cardinals.
Thompson ran for 186 yards on 33 carries, scoring three times to give Carl Albert its 11th football state championship.
“We were down at the beginning,” Thompson said. “But every practice, we kept going in, working hard, fighting it out, and we just knew we were gonna have a chance at the state title.”
The Titans' defense held East Central to just 178 total yards and minus-7 yards rushing.
“Mike Corley is the architect of that,” Rose said. “The zone blitzes, the stunts, the containment, the pass coverage, all unbelievable.
“We stopped their run completely cold. They've got better athletes than we do. They all go both ways and that really hurts sometimes.”
Carl Albert trailed 8-7 heading into the fourth quarter before Blake Walker's 34-yard field goal early put the Titans up front for the first time.
Thompson then sealed the game on both sides of the ball, intercepting a Tre'von Cherry pass and returning it to the East Central 3 to set up his own 3-yard touchdown run on the first play.
Three plays later, Thompson picked off Cherry again, returning this one to the Cardinals' 16.
The Titans kept it in his hands, as Thompson carried it five consecutive times before scoring to put the game away for good with 3:02 left.
The interceptions were Thompson's fourth and fifth of the playoffs.
And when the Titans were given the gold ball, it was Thompson who hoisted it and carried it to the Carl Albert fans.
Things got a bit heated for East Central near the end as Demeco Bowens was ejected after an altercation with a Titans player and Fabian Garcia was also ejected in the aftermath.
All three of the winningest coaches in state history won titles this weekend, but none were as unlikely as Rose.
Carl Albert is the first team to win a state championship after starting 1-5 since Wynnewood won the Class 2A title in 1998 after starting 1-6.
For Rose, it's his ninth state title. His first came in 1997. Clinton's Mike Lee won his ninth title earlier in the day and Jenks' Allan Trimble won his 10th on Friday.