It is said that defense wins championships and the Altus Bulldogs and Ardmore Tigers have two of the best defenses in Class 5A football.
Both of them were on full display in Altus Friday at Hightower Memorial Stadium as the Tigers came into town to take on the reigning Class 5A state champion Bulldogs.
Their defenses are well known, with Altus allowing just 12 points per game, while Ardmore allowed 13.8. But the question leading up the game was which of the two prolific offenses would win the battle against these shutdown defenses?
With both teams averaging more than 30 points per game, it was a test to see if each team’s defense was as good as advertised or if their opponents throughout the season were just clearly outmatched.
As it turns out, the defenses are that good.
With only 20 combined points scored during Friday night’s game, the teams showcased why they are deserving of the rankings they have held throughout the season.
Each run play called was a fight for yards and every yard gained came with a price, typically in the form of a massive hit from a defender.
It was a hard-hitting and gritty game, but it was a prize that each team wanted.
Ardmore had the opportunity to upset the champs while Altus had the opportunity to continue their two-year run of dominance over the Tigers.
There was more on the line than a victory. It almost felt personal.
Dating back to last season — including playoffs — the Bulldogs won 14 straight games going into Friday night’s battle, and unfortunately, the streak stopped there.
The Tigers earned a hard-fought victory over the Bulldogs, winning the game by a final score of 13-7.
It was a back-and-forth affair for much of the first half with Ardmore getting the go-ahead touchdown on a two-yard run with eight seconds left in the second quarter.
Before that touchdown, Ardmore reeled off a couple of big runs to get into the red zone, gaining yards and shedding would-be tacklers as the Bulldogs struggled to wrap up their very athletic running back Jordan Roberts.
The Bulldogs received the ball back with seven seconds left but decided to let the clock run out and went into halftime down by seven.
Much needed adjustments were made as the teams took the field in the second half.
In the early going, both teams struggled to mount a touchdown drive and it was not until the fourth quarter with 8:57 left in the game that either team scored again as Ardmore ripped off a huge 34-yard touchdown run.
The Tigers missed the extra point and took a 13-0 lead, but the miss meant that Altus could score twice and win the game.
The Bulldogs first score came with 4:49 left in the game as Noah Villarreal forced his way into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown run.
Suddenly, the Bulldogs had life.
The score pumped up the team and the momentum shifted. The crowd was on their feet, chanting “defense” during Ardmore’s next possession and erupting into cheers each time an Altus player came up with a big stop.
It was just what the Bulldogs needed.
They stuffed the Tigers and got the ball back with enough time left to drive down the field and score. It seemed as if they were destined to do just that with Villarreal and Jake Vargas picking up crucial yards when needed.
With fourth down and three to go, the Bulldogs were looking at the play of the game if they could convert and a missed opportunity if they could not.
Vargas took the snap and tucked it, trying to find room on the right side of the line, but Ardmore defenders met him and stopped him short of the first-down marker, devestating the Bulldogs and ending their chances of a comeback.
“We played hard, you know. At times we played well on both sides of the ball and at times we struggled, but that’s because Ardmore is a good team,” said Head Coach Todd Vargas. “We knew exactly what they were going to bring to the table, we’ve beat them the last two years, but we knew they were going to bring their best and they played well, but we’re not going to blame and complain. We’re going to get back Monday and we’re going to get to work.”
“Defense played well. There was one play where they hit a big one on us but it is what it is,” he said. “We’ve got to get better.”
Defense was the theme for the game.
Ardmore secured a Bulldog fumble early in the first quarter, but Altus hit them back with Sha’Quan French jumping in front of a Tiger pass in the red zone for an interception and keep Ardmore out of the end zone.
In high school football, it is very difficult for any team to run the table and usually a team bounces back from a loss, learns from mistakes and comes back better than ever.
Perhaps it is what this team needed. They have gotten so used to winning that they have forgotten how it feels to lose.
Now they are truly hungry. They have been disrespected on their own turf and they are going to want to return the favor.
That spells bad news for El Reno where the Bulldogs will travel on Friday to take on the 1-5 Indians.
This team is now out for blood and they are going to do whatever is necessary to get it.
Reach Ryan Lewis at 580-482-1221, ext. 2076.