The night did not start out quite the way the Bulldogs had hoped it would when a fumbled snap was recovered by the Vernon Lions and turned into six points just moments later on a long touchdown pass.
While it could have set the tone for the night, the Bulldogs continued to battle despite falling into an early hole. As they have done since the Todd Vargas era began in Altus, the coaches and players banded together and made the necessary corrections to climb back into the game.
“First of all, it is Vernon versus Altus and we are always going to get Vernon’s best in this rivalry game. We had two busts on defense early, the kids corrected it and the defense played extremely well after that. It is all part of the learning process,” Vargas said.
One of the missteps was giving up the first big touchdown to Vernon, but instead of dwelling over the mistakes, the players showed the kind of maturity that is uncommon in high school football and they put the mistake behind them.
On the ensuing possession, quarterback Jake Vargas helped revive the sullen squad when he ripped off an athletic 58-yard run that put Altus at Vernon’s 12-yard line.
Ultimately, the Bulldogs settled for a field goal to cut Vernon’s lead in half with 7:59 remaining in the first quarter but it was a small step in the right direction and helped build the confidence of the players.
During Vernon’s next possession, the Bulldog defense tightened up and forced the Lions into a fourth down situation, but Vernon gambled and took a shot at a conversion.
The gamble paid off as the Lions converted the attempt and received a fresh set of downs. Just two plays later, the Lions had their second touchdown of the game on a 73-yard catch and run by Jason Trufant.
The Bulldogs found themselves in unfamiliar territory but if there is one thing the Bulldogs have always shown, it is their resiliency in the face of adversity.
Vargas—sensing the need for something big—put it all on the line on the Bulldog’s next possession when he leaped a defender, battled through contact, and scampered 61 yards for a touchdown that pulled the Bulldogs within two points with 4:22 remaining in the first quarter.
“I knew going out there that they were a tough team but honestly we had some great opportunities because the right plays were called at the right time,” Jake Vargas said.
The needed adjustments on the defensive side of the ball were made and the Bulldogs found themselves stepping up and shutting down an offense that had seemingly scored at will against them just one quarter before.
“These kids at Altus have always been extremely physical and love to fly to the football. I am extremely proud of them. Coach [Matt] Terry and the defensive staff had them prepared and the kids executed after those two busts,” Vargas said. “The kids played hard. Again, it’s all part of the process. We made some mistakes but we overcame the adversity. I’m very proud of the kids and the staff for finding those adjustments.”
With the defense playing much better, the Bulldogs found themselves needing to score with 7:28 left in the first half.
At that point, the coaching staff called on Cabe Dickerson and Nehemiah McCaskill who both found holes in the line and made their cuts, picking up two first downs before the Bulldogs were put into a fourth down situation.
Needing just one yard to convert, Vargas found the hole he wanted and hit it, taking the ball 13 yards for a first down and setting up a chance for the Bulldogs to take the lead for the first time.
Brendan Phillips added his first of two touchdowns on the night with an 11-yard run that gave the Bulldogs their first lead at 17-12.
“Offensively, we shot ourselves in the foot early and didn’t execute as a whole very well. Vernon knows us very well and really caused some problems for us early. I felt like Dusty and the offensive staff did a great job calling some plays that eliminated those mistakes. We ran the counter play well and fed the backs,” Vargas said.
In fact, the offense seemed to be firing on all cylinders with Vargas going to the air and finding Mysean Wells for gains of 27 and 20 yards before McCaskill found a hole and put the ball on the three-yard line after a 22-yard pickup.
A false start moved the Bulldogs back to the eight-yard line but Phillips got them back to the two with 12 seconds left in the half. Altus gave it one final try and seemed to get in but were denied the touchdown as time expired in the first half with the Bulldogs leading 17-12.
At the half, Vargas had totaled 152 yards and one touchdown on just eight carries while Phillips added 47 yards and one touchdown on seven carries.
Instead of slowing down after halftime, the Bulldogs picked up the pace and scored three more times.
Phillips scored on an eight-yard touchdown run and was followed by a 20-yard touchdown run from McCaskill that put the Bulldogs up 32-12.
Vernon answered with a touchdown pass to Trufant with 1:28 left in the game but the Bulldogs put the nail in Vernon’s coffin when—in a drive meant to waste the clock—McCaskill found an opening and sailed through for a 58-yard touchdown run.
An attempt at the extra point was botched and instead resulted in Kobi Gomez picking up the ball and finding his way to the end zone for the two-point conversion that extended the Bulldog’s lead to 40-18.
Vargas led the Bulldogs with 12 carries for 163 yards and one touchdown, McCaskill made up the bulk of his yards on two carries to finish the night with eight carries for 108 yards and two touchdowns, and Phillips added 18 carries for 106 yards and two touchdowns.
“The blocking was great but I feel that I wasn’t mentally there the whole game. I made a lot of bad reads but still managed to get the yards we needed because everybody else did their part even though I made the bad read,” Vargas said. “All in all, we did pretty good and I just ran as hard as I could for my team.”
The Bulldog improve to 2-0 on the season and travel to Elk City to play the Big Elk at 7 p.m. Friday.
Reach Ryan Lewis at 580-482-1221, ext. 2076.