In its first district game of the season, Ardmore had to get out of its own way before it could claim victory.
Ardmore overcame a penalty-plagued first half against Southeast on Friday to win 21-12 on Homecoming night at Noble Stadium. Despite holding Southeast (1-3, 0-1) to a single first down in two periods of play, Ardmore (2-2, 1-0 District 5A-1) led just 7-6 at halftime.
After the Spartans narrowed Ardmore's lead to 14-12 in the third quarter, Jamarcus Mills ripped off a 48-yard run on a late pitch from Jeff Surrell, and Surrell found the end zone on the next play from 13 yards out to prevent the Southeast upset bid.
The touchdown was a sigh of relief on a night where the Tigers kept the Spartans believing longer than anyone anticipated.
"That's the worst win we've ever got," Surrell admitted. "Coming into a game like this (Homecoming), sometimes you don't have your head on right.
"You have some good nights, you've have some bad nights. But that's what another week of practice is for. We just keep grinding and we'll get better."
Both teams weren't at their best, combining for multiple flags that bogged the game down, particularly in a first half that saw 15 of the game's 22 penalties.
Ardmore coach Douglas Wendel knows the Tigers will have to be much better against district favorite Del City on Friday. The Eagles (2-2), who made the drop from Class 6A to 5A this season, throttled Lawton MacArthur 41-14 on Thursday.
"We had instances this week in practice where our discipline wasn't where it needed to be," Wendel said. "I think that was reflective tonight.
"I'm going to have to do a lot of reflecting this weekend on pushing so hard, so fast (in practice) that we're giving up execution."
Ardmore settled down some in the second half. On the Spartans' first possesion of the third quarter, Ardmore sniffed out their fake punt attempt, giving the Tigers the ball at the Southeast 15.
Four plays later, Kaine McCullough scored on a 3-yard run, and Ben Gonzalez's PAT kick put Ardmore ahead 14-6.
Ardmore's defense was dominant throughout, holding Southeast to just 99 yards of offense. A goalline stand on Southeast's longest possesion of the second half appeared to be the jump-off point the Tigers needed to go on a serious run in the fourth quarter.
But Ardmore gave the ball back on a fumble at its 19 — one of three Tigers turnovers on the night — and Southeast's Zachary Guess rumbled into the end zone from 5 yards out to keep the Spartans' hopes afloat.
That was until the next possession. On the Ardmore 39, Surrell kept the ball until the last possible second on the option play, absorbing a hit while pitching to Mills. The junior rushed to the Southeast 13, which set up Surrell's TD on the next play.
Page 2 of 2 - Mills led Ardmore with 109 yards on just two carries. He also got the Tigers deep out of their own territory with a 61-yard run on Ardmore's final possession before halftime.
"I was just trying to help my team get the win, go downfield and score," Mills said. "We just have to go in and be more disciplined, do what we were supposed to do in practice, come out and play like we know how to play."
Surrell finished with 15 carries for 98 yards and two touchdowns, including a 15-yard TD run on Ardmore's first possession of the game.
The initial 80-yard drive appeared to be a good omen for the Tigers. Ardmore's chances looked even better when Southeast's Ricardo Deluna bobbled the ensuing kickoff while running forward from his own 15-yard line.
But Deluna regained control of the ball and sprinted untouched for an 82-yard touchdown.
Those mistakes won't go unpunished against Del City, said Wendel.
"It'll be a good challenge for us," Wendel said. "They're gonna be better than any team we've played talent-wise, speed-wise.
"We need to have some fight, execute and show improvement."
Erik K. Horne