The first six weeks of Carl Albert's football schedule were nearly as brutal as they could be.
Six games against six teams that eventually made the playoffs. Five losses for a young team that returned no skill-position players.
The playoffs — much less a playoff win — seemed like a far-flung possibility.
“We just kept practicing hard every day wading through it and trying to get better,” Titans quarterback Steven Thompson said after Carl Albert beat Del City 28-21 on Friday in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.
The Titans became the first 5A No. 4 seed in more than a decade to win a first-round playoff game.
“They never gave up,” Carl Albert coach Gary Rose said. “They believed in themselves.
“They've come 100 miles in the last six weeks.”
Now, Carl Albert gets a home game in the second round, hosting 10-1 Claremore.
Veteran leadership gets thrown around easily as an explanation for why teams are successful.
Carl Albert lineman Kyler Walker said it was critical on this team, though.
“We just couldn't have our younger guys giving up,” Walker said. “Our coaches did a good job of always coming in Monday ready to work even when we were losing.
“They gave us a good sense of hope. Being 1-5 is not where we wanted to be, but we never thought we couldn't get here.”
But after playing teams that went a combined 46-14 in the regular season, the Titans finished with four teams that won a combined four games against other teams.
Carl Albert won the games by a combined 304-22.
“We know coming into those games that we were going to win,” Walker said. “We knew where our road was going and if we took care of that, we'd play Del City in the first round.
“We used that time to make sure we'd be ready for that challenge in Week 11.”
Now, on to Week 12.
Claremore's only loss came by one point to No. 1 Tulsa East Central.
“There was a sense of joy among us when we found out we would play at home,” Walker said. “As long as we do the same things we did last week, we'll be OK. But we're also not taking anything for granted. We understand that we can't let up.”