It is not always easy for a team to bounce back from a loss. Lots of things come into play — player morale, adjustments, drive — and even though the Bulldogs have experienced very few losses dating back to 2015, they know a thing or two about overcoming adversity, making adjustments and showing up hungry and ready for battle the following week.
This year’s Bulldogs’ group has followed almost an identical path as last season’s team. They have steamrolled most of the competition but fell just short of prevailing over a tough Ardmore Tigers team — this year’s loss coming in a 20-14 defensive showdown last Friday night in Ardmore — but what separates 2016 from 2017 is the quality of the El Reno Indians.
The Indians come to Hightower Memorial Stadium on Friday. Unlike last year’s 1-5 group, this Indians’ team is in a much better position at 3-3 and seems to have improved significantly since last season.
With wins over, Piedmont, Chickasha and Southeast, the Indians are sitting at .500 for the first time in quite awhile as they head into final half of the season.
In their way is a tough Bulldogs team who held the prolific Ardmore offense to just 20 points — Ardmore averages 33 points per game this season — and scored 14 points on one of the stingiest defenses in Oklahoma High School football.
The Indians also have to face a Bulldogs team that is looking to prove itself after losing its first game this season.
“El Reno is a lot better than last year,” quarterback Jake Vargas said, “but we are just going to do what we do every other game. I let my team down last week and that won’t happen again. We are going to come out this week focused up and ready to play.”
Last year’s El Reno team could only muster one offensive touchdown in a 60-17 loss to the Bulldogs. In that game, Vargas was a perfect two-for-two through the air for 50 yards and two touchdowns while also gaining 10 yards on the ground.
Vargas plays a key part in the Bulldogs’ run game this season and will also lean on backs Nehemiah McCaskill, Izaiah Hall, Cabe Dickerson and Brenden Phillips to wear down the Indians defense and put points on the board.
It was against El Reno last season that Hall saw his first significant action of the season when he ran for 66 yards on 12 carries. Like Vargas, Hall’s role in the Bulldogs’ run game has increased and he could play a big factor in getting the Bulldogs going early in the game.
The Indians will lean on senior running back Hunter Cometsevah who ran for 312 yards on 31 carries against the Lawton MacArthur Highlanders two weeks ago as well as the duo of quarterback Gage Armold and receiver Dyson Plumley who connected five times for 155 yards and two touchdowns in the same game.
To win the game, the Bulldogs will have to contain Cometsevah, Armold and Plumley.
“We’re going to have to cover really well,” Kory Beach said. “We will also need to play physical up front to get pressure on the quarterback.”
The Bulldogs’ defense has shown the ability to do those things well, preferring to bend rather than break in an effort to stall drives and keep points off the board.
Offensively, the Bulldogs are more ground-and-pound than air-it-out but Vargas has shown the ability to go to the air when necessary and did so several times in the second half last week against Ardmore.
More than anything else this season, it has been the special teams play that has struggled, but the Bulldogs have been working on that and expect to be ready to go by kickoff on Friday.
“We have to stay focused and not underestimate them,” Keegan Shive said. “We are really cleaning up our special teams this week and fine tuning our offense. It is the next step in the team’s plan.”
The Bulldogs host the Indians at 7 p.m. Friday at Hightower Memorial Stadium.
Reach Ryan Lewis at 580-482-1221, ext. 2076.