The record says 3-0 and it is not surprising, given what is now known about this Altus Bulldog football team.
But it has not always been this apparent.
It was difficult to say if they would continue the success from last season. After all, several of the playmakers from last year’s championship team graduated in May and would no longer be there, leaving holes on both offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Many had questions that could not be answered until the first snap of the first game.
The first half of Bulldog football versus the Clinton Red Tornadoes set every fan in attendance and at home on edge.
The Bulldogs drove down the field several times, but first game jitters were in abundance. Altus couldn’t cross the goal line, leading many to believe this would be a rebuilding year.
But something happened after quarterback Jake Vargas’ throw was intercepted by Clinton at the three-yard line and returned for a 97-yard touchdown for the Red Tornadoes.
Trailing 7-0, the Bulldogs finally came alive in the third quarter and two stars were born, while several others were reignited.
The Bulldogs bounced back with help from Vargas, Sha’Quan French, Noah Villarreal, Tito Jones and Nehemiah McCaskill. Each did exactly what was needed, not only to catch up, but also to blow past a solid Clinton team.
The Bulldog defense held strong and allowed Clinton only one other touchdown while the Bulldog offense racked up five. Villarreal had two of the five and also had an impressive 224 yards on just 25 carries in his Bulldog debut. Jones also had two touchdowns with six carries for 30 yards. French had one, but it was a 70-yard sprint to the end zone. Jones also contributed 100 yards on just five carries.
Suddenly, the Bulldogs were looking like the team the fans were expecting.
Home sweet home
Fast forward a week.
The Bulldogs were at home against their biggest out-of-state rival, the Vernon, Texas, Lions.
If they were nervous about the matchup, it did not show.
Right out of the gate, Tito Jones found a gap and hit it, taking the football 82 yards for a touchdown to start the game.
The run ignited the crowd, but it was only a taste of what was to come.
McCaskill once again showed an ability to find the gap and accelerate through, taking two carries for 43 yards and two touchdowns.
Villarreal fought for every yard he could, and gained 94 yards on 20 carries with one touchdown.
The Bulldogs offense picked up 222 yards total on the ground.
They had yet to complete a pass, but that did not matter to Head Coach Todd Vargas.
“That’s really not what we’re about,” Vargas said. “If there is an opportunity, then we’ll take it, but our offense is built around running and using the pieces that we have to excel.”
And that is what they did so far in the season. Jake Vargas used his feet more than his arm and it paid off in a big way.
Suddenly, the Bulldogs found themselves at 2-0 following a 26-3 win against one of their most hated rivals.
But they had a bye and it is always a challenge to carry the momentum through an off week.
The day a record falls
With all the success the Bulldogs achieved so far in the season, they still haven’t had a statement game.
They performed well, on both defense and offense, but are still seeking a game to make people really take notice.
This may not be the 2015 team — but it is the 2016 team — and they are out to show they can be just as dangerous.
That is exactly what happened when the Bulldogs took on the Elk City Big Elks. The Bulldogs finally made a statement.
As a team the Bulldogs’ single-game record for rushing yards stood at 515 against Chickasha in 1995.
Last Friday it fell as the Bulldogs eclipsed that mark by 50 yards, rushing for 565 yards and seven touchdowns in the win against Elk City.
Their record for most yards of total offense in a single game sits at 589 and it was against Shawnee in 1971, a record the Bulldogs just missed by 24 yards.
And 1971 also happens to be the year the Bulldogs won their first state championship.
In the game against Elk City, Villarreal rushed the ball 31 times for 241 yards with one touchdown. McCaskill rushed five times for 70 yards and three touchdowns, Vargas nine times for 104 yards, and French three times for 93 yards and one touchdown.
Kory Beach also helped out, rushing the ball four times for 27 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bulldogs found the offense they knew they had and they rolled over Elk City, winning the game 49-28.
The question is, can they be stopped?
Football is a team sport and anything can happen on any given Friday night, but the Bulldogs look hard to beat.
When the defense gives up a play, the offense takes over and scores points. And when the offense cannot find the end zone, the defense makes stops.
The offense is a fast-paced, high-scoring mix that nobody has an answer for this season, while the defense is a hard-hitting, playmaking group of young men looking to shut down opponents and stop drives before they ever get started.
If they continue to play at this level, anything is possible.
So far this season, the Bulldogs have 15 touchdowns with 1,247 yards rushing on 144 carries, giving them as a team an 8.7-yard-per-carry average.
Of the 1,247 yards, Villarreal has 559 of them on 76 carries with four touchdowns, French has 206 on nine carries with two touchdowns, Vargas has 190 on 26 carries, McCaskill has 163 on nine carries with five touchdowns, Jones has 60 on 12 carries with two touchdowns and Beach has 28 on six carries with two touchdowns.
Vargas has completed 1-of-5 pass attempts for nine yards and one interception. His lone completion of the season went to Villarreal.
The Daily Oklahoman has the Bulldogs ranked as fifth in Class 5A with Del City — their next opponent — coming in at sixth with a 2-1 record.
Del City was defeated by Class 6A-II’s 10th-ranked Midwest City at home.
It will be the first conference game for the Bulldogs and it is slated to begin at 7 p.m. Friday at Hightower Memorial Stadium.
A win here would show the state why the Bulldogs deserve more than a fifth-place ranking. It would also show the state that these Bulldogs are real.
No matter how many graduated in May and no matter how many holes needed to be filled, the Bulldogs filled those gaps and rise to every challenge.
This is the year of the Bulldog and three games in, they are just getting started.
Reach Ryan Lewis at 580-482-1221, ext. 2076.