It’s game day for the Bulldogs. Our boys in blue will board the big bus and head for Ardmore to battle the Tigers on their home turf in the #1 game in the state this week.
This Ardmore team is loaded with speed, and their front seven is as good as they come in any class. I watched that Ardmore loss to Mac last week at Cameron Stadium. I’m still confounded as to how Ardmore let that slip through their coverage to fall to the Highlanders in the final minute. I am sure Ardmore is a little confused by it as well. I figure they are somewhat upset and motivated ready to welcome the Bulldogs with a purpose.
That puts Ardmore and Altus with their only losses coming at the hands of the #1 team in the state. Both schools can give a laundry list of reasons they feel they should have won those games. Mac sits atop the 5A mountain and I know the Bulldogs are clamoring for another shot at Mac in the playoffs.
This match-up tonight bears some striking similarities to 1989. However, with both teams having a loss, there is slightly less hype going into this game than 26 years ago. By “slightly” I mean that in comparison to the hype and buildup to the 1989 showdown, tonight’s game looks like a junior varsity’s J.V. match up attended by a few parents and some heckling classmates. No offense fellas of the 2015 Bulldogs brotherhood. I know there is everything at stake for the game tonight. Its importance is not lost on me. However, I have never seen anything like the 1989 pre-game hype. Let me explain.
Flashback – Altus (7-0) @ Ardmore (7-0) was a battle of #1 vs. #1 and the entire state was on notice. That’s right. One poll had Altus in the one spot and the other poll had Ardmore in the one spot. It was like this all season long.
The Bulldogs were coming off of a loss to McAlester in the state championship game in 1988. So expectations were extremely high considering the returning impact players. I don’t know much about the Ardmore team of 1989 but I do know they had a speed demon at tailback, Rafael Denson, and a beast of a fullback in Musgrove. Denson went on to a very successful stint at OSU. He was considered a blazing fast player at the college level just one year after running against the Bulldogs so you know he was a speeder against high school kids.
The Bulldogs narrowly clipped the Vernon Lions at home in the season opener, 24-21. This was a head-scratcher for us. The defense wasn’t expected to yield this much positivity for any opponents’ offense.
The 21 points given up to Vernon would eclipse the next six games combined. Also, that Vernon team was very good. We didn’t know how good at the time. Vernon had a great season and the following year they ran through their schedule undefeated and lost in the Texas class 3A championship game.
Lawton High came to town in week two. The Wolverines were absolutely loaded all through the 80’s and 1989 was no different. High had won the title in 1987 that had Will Shields, Dewell Brewer, James Trapp and Kelly Stinnett. Charles Thompson was just before that. Stacey King who won NBA championships with the Jordan led Bulls was also walking the hallways at Lawton. Mike Minter was in junior high at the time.
That game ended in a 6-6 tie due to an extremely long deluge of a rain and some lightening. I was in high school at the time so along with some classmates, I stood out in the rain. Yes, there was some lightening, but not enough to chase us away from the bleachers. After the game had been called, there was even some talk of Lawton High coming back the following evening to resume the contest. Lawton High wanted no part of that. Middle linebacker for Altus, Kevin Marple, recalls exiting the locker room after dressing and ready for a fifth quarter gathering, looking up and seeing only stars.
“If the officials had just waited maybe another 15-20 minutes,” recalls Marple, “we could have continued the game and the disposing of Lawton High properly. That tie made us extra hungry for everyone else on the schedule. I hated that tie and as we went through the season. I hated having that on our record. So, we took it out on Lawton Ike the next week.”
The Bulldogs with a 1-0-1 record took on Ike at Cameron stadium in week three. Ike was incredible. Otis Taylor, Martin Chase, Fred Thomas and Dwight McFadden were among the Eagles back then. Martin Chase was a beast at OU along with Otis Taylor. Fred Thomas quarterbacked at OSU and Dwight McFadden headed to USC. I was in the stands at Owen Field in Norman just two years later and watched Dwight McFadden start at USC as a freshman and the Trojans beat OU that day 20-3 and McFadden scored twice.
However, Ike had no chance to advance the ball in any direction other than backwards. Altus shut Ike out 10-0 and now we all knew exactly what kind of team Altus had, and so did the rest of the state.
One year later, The 1990 Ike squad would go undefeated 14-0 and win the mythical national championship. They repeatedly had 20,000 people in the stands and media was all a buzz over that Eagles team. Isiah Thomas even came to Lawton to speak to the school and motivate the Eagles. ESPN was a regular attendee at the Ike games. They were unbelievable.
Week four brought Mac to town. Mac was loaded too but went home with a 22-0 hammering at the hands of a defense that would not yield another score until the Ardmore game.
Week five the Bulldogs went to OKC Southeast and won 43-0.
Week six the Bulldogs went to OKC Grant and won 36-0.
Week seven the Bulldogs hosted Chickasha and won 38-12. Both touchdowns came at the hands of the Bulldogs’ offense.
For six straight games the Bulldogs’ defense had not given up a score of any kind.
Then, it was time for the big one. All season while Altus was disposing of all opponents, we all knew what Ardmore was doing. Rafael Denson was running wild on everyone.
However, for the Bulldogs, there was no need to worry. They had already faced off against formidable foes and athletes all year.
As a senior, Denson rushed for a whopping 2,116 yards and 37 touchdowns. Denson was the Tulsa World Player of the Year.
When the Bulldogs arrived in Ardmore, the hype for this one gave even the most stoic observers pterodactyls in their bellies. Forget the butterflies, this was a match-up of the best defense I have ever seen in high school against an Ardmore offense that could care less who lined up against them.
As the Bulldogs stepped off of the bus and headed for the locker room to start getting dressed, midfield seats on the home side were already hard to come by. Keep in mind this is a full two and a half hours before game time and a 50 yard line seat was no longer available. By the time the Bulldogs stepped out of the locker room in full gear ready to begin pre-game, the stands were packed, helicopters were like hungry, hovering buzzards and the Ardmore stadium was standing room only.
The old field at Ardmore was unique in that it sat down in a swell, like a creek bottom. It made for some intimidating attendance. There was not a bad view in the house. Not only were both bleachers packed, but the end zones were also jammed packed four or five people deep standing on the little gravel path in the corners. In looking back, I guess I am surprised fire marshalls didn’t have problems with stairs leading up to the bleachers in each section on both sides being packed. Probably because they were there in the stands as well, ready for a battle.
Even the coin toss had drama. Along with both teams’ captains and the officials, all four media outlets (channels 4, 5, 9, and Fox 25) were along side with cameras aimed.
This game had so many great athletes on both sides. Now, we can look back and know that we walked the future Pittsburgh Steelers all-time sack leader out to mid-field as one of our captains.
Jason Gildon was a mammoth of a man. To give him the praise he is due is not only proper, it is necessary. His teammates know who the star was on that team. It may seem like I am only writing on him and making it look like he did all of this alone. His teammates know that isn’t true. I had grown up on the campus at OU. My father had a Saturday job at OU stadium for home games that required he be at the stadium three hours before each game. I ran all over that athletic facility like a kid thinking he had free reign over the place. Sometimes I did. I was around the nation’s top collegiate athletes before and after games. Sometimes I was also in locker rooms and meeting rooms. I knew what a next level athlete looked like. They just seemed to radiate greatness.
Gildon was greatness. He oozed talent out of every pore and his future legacy lived up to his hype as a youngster. The kid was amazing. He had a frame ready for the NFL in high school. It came as no surprise to the local towns people that he immediately dominated the Big XIII offenses and set all sorts of records that he will forever possess due to the Big XIII no longer existing.
Having Jason on the defensive end gave this team so much confidence. Kevin Marple was a force at linebacker along with Narcisso “Cheecho” Medina and a young Yohance Brown. Sophomore, Oscar Commings was speed on the edge and quarterback, Keith Wiginton was steady. Keith likes to claim he was a better safety than he was a quarterback. Jesse Phillips and James Chandler took most of the hand-offs and Gary Prince anchored the center of that defense at nose guard. No team ran up the middle.
No one liked to run to Gildon’s side for obvious reasons.
Guess who was on the other end of that defensive line ready to shut off any efforts in his direction? Altus Bulldogs’ current coach, Mike Torres.
Torres led that defense with the most tackles behind the line of scrimmage. As Mike was recounting his game in 1989, he was quick to remind me of last year’s win at home against Ardmore. It’s hard to imagine the amount of pride Torres felt a year ago as he was standing on the sidelines watching his son, Sean Torres (#34), impact the game.
“I’m so proud of him,” said Torres. “Tonight’s game at Ardmore will bring back all sorts of memories for me. Watching Sean tonight will bring some emotional memories back to me. I really would like us to win this one. What a great moment that would be to share that with him and all of the Bulldog Nation.”
That 1989 game ended in a Bulldog victory 35-34 in triple overtime. Oscar Cummings blocked an extra point that allowed for the Bulldogs to dramatically win the game.
On fourth down and six measly inches to go, Jesse Phillips fumbled (I still want to know if it was intentional) and Keith Wiginton scooped it and scored. Jim Tasker, by far the best kicker in the state, confidently stood on the field through five consecutive timeouts and split the uprights for the win. The rule was later changed that makes it impossible to carry over timeouts into overtime.
Every time we lined up to win it. Timeout was called just prior to the snap. Five times this happened. Our hearts were in our throats. Tasker wasn’t phased a bit.
Let’s go 2015 Bulldogs! The old-schoolers, and all of the new-schoolers, are behind you. Go on and make your own history. There is no reason to think you can’t go in there and win this one.
It’s game day with #2 Altus Bulldogs vs. the #4 Ardmore Tigers tonight at 7 p.m.
GO BULLDOGS !!!!!!!
Reach Brad Gilbert@482-1221 ext. 2076