Friday night football is always thrilling when the game matches the hype that led up to it. Lawton MacArthur remains the reigning 5A state champs. They claim the outright lead in the district race after outlasting the Altus Bulldogs, 21-19.
Both teams showed up for this one. Altus took the momentum early. Following the opening touchback, Altus sustained a long drive helped by a fourth down conversion on their first set of downs. The drive was halted on a fumble on the exchange between Benway and Birdow.
However, Mac’s efforts to advance were shutdown on two tackles for losses by Hassan Foye and an incomplete pass.
After the MacArthur shanked punt, quarterback Jayden Benway worked the option keeper around the right side and scored the first touchdown of the game from 40 yards out. The point after was good and Altus was up 7-0.
Mac put together a drive to even the score 7-7. The Highlanders found a formula for success that would pay dividends all night. They gave the ball to their workhorse, #21 Teddy “Homer” Thomas. He punched in the score from five yards out. Thomas is very skilled and tough to tackle.
His best attribute is probably his unwavering patience as he runs behind his O-line. He rarely ends up in the hole the play was originally designed for. Thomas is very tough to tackle. He keeps his legs churning after contact and rarely goes to the ground by one tackler.
Benway put Altus back in front early in the end quarter. Benway’s second touchdown of the night came from three yards out. The point after was blocked. Altus was up 13-7.
Thomas again had an answer for it. He punched in the score on a fourth and goal from the one-yard line. The PAT was good and Mac took a 14-13 lead. Mac would not trail again.
On Altus’ next possession, the Bulldogs not only lost cornerback Tito Jones to an ankle injury, but lost the ball as well. The Bulldogs fumbled the option pitch to the right.
Mac then sent J. Christon on a reverse and 17 untouched yards later, Christon scored. Mac took a 21 -13 lead following the made PAT.
Taven Birdow returned the deep kickoff out to the 35 yard line with just 2:04 left in the half. Altus quickly used up all three of their time outs trying to get the drive up the field.
Altus managed a first down, and with the clock now under a minute, Benway tossed a sweep right to Birdow. The trickery was in effect as Birdow threw a strike on the halfback pass to the streaking Benway down the left sideline for 22 yards.
Altus continued to move the chains and stopped the clock by getting out of bounds. Mac was called for a costly pass interference. Altus had moved the ball to the three yard line.
From the Mac 3, with 9 seconds to go, Birdow was stopped after a yard. Altus was out of timeouts and was forced to watch the first half clock tick to zero.
This final sequence before the half has been scrutinized by some in attendance. The final play selection before the half from the three yard line has been the focus of some disgruntled fans. Some have speculated that a field goal attempt was the choice, especially since the Bulldogs lost by only two points. Some others have stated their preferred play would have been a pass.
I disagree with the grumbling bleacher coaches on this one for several reasons. Mac had scored 14 unanswered points at that moment, and three points would not have done much to quell the Mac momentum. Altus was down 21-13 at the time and Tito Jones was lost for the game. The extra point try on the Bulldogs’ last touchdown was blocked. It was blocked with ease by a Mac player’s stomach, not his diving, outstretched hands.
Coach Reed had just seen Mac go through the Bulldogs’ defense on their last two possessions with relative ease. When that last Bulldog drive began, my view of the game was, “this game may get out of hand in Mac’s favor.” Most of the Bulldogs’ offensive success had come early in the game. However, following Benway’s second score very early in the second quarter, The Bulldogs’ offense had sputtered.
I don’t think anyone had a sense that final drive would end up at the Mac three yard line.
That final drive before half was so unexpectedly exciting. Even if the Bulldogs attempted the field goal there and made it, I doubt anyone would have been satisfied with three points. Coach Reed made an aggressive play call in the moment. It was a gamble that didn’t pay off. I favor aggressive, risk-taking over a conservative game plan any time.
Mac celebrated the stop and Altus was left to second guess the possession. The first half ended with Mac up 21-13.
Mac took the ball in the second half. Jake Vargas picked off the Mac pass and Altus was in business deep in Mac territory.
On second down, Benway connected with Anton Anderson #89 for a 19-yard touchdown pass over the middle. However, Mac denied the two-point conversion leaving the score 21-19 early in the third quarter.
This score would remain as the final.
Both teams exchanged punts the rest of the way. Mac converted a huge fourth and four play from their own 30 yard line. They ran most of the remaining minutes away. Mac later punted from a shotgun formation and downed the ball deep in the red zone of Altus. Benway’s third down pass was picked off. Mac took a knee from the Altus 35 for the win.
The Bulldogs again played incredible defense in the second half. These defensive strategists on the staff are absolutely brilliant when it comes to in-game adjustments at half-time. The Mac offense looked shocked and befuddled on every snap. To shut out the Mac high-powered attack for an entire half is remarkable. It allowed Altus to make a run at the win.
I never had a sense that Altus would lose the game until the clock ran out. The Bulldogs had fewer points on the board when the zeroes showed up. The players fought for every inch they gained against MacArthur. The coaches did their jobs to the best of their efforts. This is the first defeat for the Bulldogs this season. All of their goals set before the season are still on the table.
MacArthur is an elite team with elite athletes and elite coaches. They are every bit the hype they had coming into the game. Mac has earned their number one ranking and it is well deserved.
The Bulldogs can’t afford to dwell long on this one. Another district powerhouse, Del City, will come to town next Friday.
Friday will be Pink Out Night inside The Rock. Fans are encouraged to bring, wear, and promote all things pink for continued breast cancer awareness.
I couldn’t be more proud to be a Bulldog than I am right now. The game matched the hype. It was great to see. The coaches, players, trainers, band, cheerleaders and dance performed at the top of their game. They all represented this community with total class.
GO BULLDOGS !!
Reach Brad Gilbert@482-1221 ext. 2076