The Altus community had been waiting patiently for nine months and on Friday evening the wait came to an end as the Bulldogs took the field at Hightower Memorial Stadium in front of a standing room only crowd.
The anticipation had been building for many locals as the season opener against the Clinton Red Tornadoes drew near. MaxPreps had Clinton favored to win the game over a Bulldogs team that lost many of its primary playmakers to graduation in May, but the Bulldogs had other plans.
For the Bulldog football players, this game was more than just an opportunity to win their first game of the season. This game also gave the Bulldogs a chance to show the state that nobody should ever count the Bulldogs out. It gave them a chance to prove that this program never rebuilds, it simply reloads.
When the Class 4A second-ranked Red Tornadoes came into town as the favorites, they never considered Altus’ drive and determination to succeed. When the final second ticked off the scoreboard, the Red Tornadoes found themselves boarding a bus back to Clinton after experiencing a shutout at the hands of the underdog as the Bulldogs steamrolled Clinton 19-0 to pick up their first win of the season.
There were many memorable plays made by Jake Vargas, Nehemiah McCaskill, Izaiah Hall, and company, but perhaps no one player performed as well as the Bulldogs’ defensive unit did as a whole.
Relying mostly on players that have had limited game-time experience, the Bulldogs’ defense held Clinton’s prolific offense to just 37 total yards on the night.
That performance included numerous fourth down stops as the Red Tornadoes tried desperately to crawl back into the game with time running out. Try as they might, the Bulldogs were too fast, too prepared, and too hungry to let Clinton get away with much of anything.
“Defensively, here’s the thing, we both run the same offense and we both have the same insight on things that we need to do to really cause problems for the offense and so it was a defensive battle for a lot of the game. Our defense did exactly what we thought they would do,” Head Coach Todd Vargas said. “We were really physical with our front seven and we covered the pass well. I thought they played really great. We had a few breakdowns here and there but they were small and we recovered so defensively we did a great job and I could not be more proud.”
Altus was relentless and made the stops it had to make to keep the Red Tornadoes in check. Though the defense did its job, the Bulldogs would not have won the game if not for the vision and feet of Vargas who scored two rushing touchdowns and reeled off multiple 10-plus yard runs that not only extended drives but also pumped life into a discouraged Altus offense during crucial moments in the game.
“It’s his senior year and we knew going into the season that we were going to put more on his shoulders and let him run the ball more. That’s his game though, gritty and dirty, almost get tackled and break away and get seven more yards, that kinda stuff,” Vargas said. “He played really hard tonight and I’m extremely proud of him. We weren’t perfect but we really gutted it out.”
When the team needed him the most, Vargas was there to put the team on his back and make something happen. He finished the night with 19 carries for 117 yards and two touchdowns. He shared the load with McCaskill, Hall, and Mysean Wells who finished with five carries for 32 yards and one touchdown.
The Bulldogs were able to control the game with a continuous onslaught of fresh legs that wore down Clinton’s defensive line over time. All total, seven different running backs touched the ball for the Bulldogs and helped lead the team to victory.
“The touchdown before half was huge. It was a big momentum changer for us. Last year we were down seven at the half so this year going in up seven, we knew with our conditioning that we would grind them out and I think that did happen. I think in the second half we played at a pretty good level of intensity and we wore them down,” Vargas said. “The thing is we’re relying on a lot of kids, there are a lot of younger kids that are not as experienced and I’ve known from the beginning that we’re going to take some bumps and bruises. We’re going to have some mistakes but when these kids finally get it figured out and they get comfortable in everything that we’re doing, we have a chance to be really good.”
“It’s a proccess. We’re playing a lot of guys but defensively, we have a system where we can let them pin their ears back and play and so that’s what they did tonight and that is where we’re best,” he added. “As we go through the year, we’re going to be better. We’re going to get better every game and so we’re excited.”
The Bulldgs will take a Friday off before returning to the field at Vernon on Sep. 8
Reach Ryan Lewis at 580-482-1221, ext. 2076.“`