On only his third dropback of the game, Clay Atwood was jarred into the harsh reality of varsity football.
As he rared back to pass, the freshman took a blindside hit from a surging Duncan defender, fumbling near midfield. Did Atwood waver? Hardly. Ardmore retained possession and took the lead nine plays later on Atwood's 1-yard touchdown run.
Ardmore may not have won the game, falling 28-14 to an experienced Duncan side that controlled the offensive line of scrimmage, but the Tigers (2-4, 1-2 District 5A-1) continued their youth movement, making a position change that was a fresh look for an offense that has often lacked consistency in the first five games.
"Clay managed the game and did everything we asked him to do," said Ardmore coach Douglas Wendel, who said he made the decision to go to Atwood shortly after Ardmore's week 5 loss to Del City. "I thought that getting Jeff (Surrell) the ball on the perimeter was going to be important. I thought that would help us; it obviously did in the first half."
With Atwood under center and senior Jeff Surrell moved to the slot, the Tigers took a 14-7 lead into halftime before Duncan (5-2, 3-0) began to assert itself up front. The Demons ran off 21 unanswered in the second half, while holding Ardmore's offense to scraps as the Tigers attempted to rally back against a strong head wind.
Trailing 28-14 in the fourth quarter, it was shades of last year's 5A state semifinal when it came to the conditions. Atwood, who watched Ardmore's loss to Lawton MacArthur from the stands as an eighth-grader, admitted it was difficult to throw in such windy conditions on Friday.
That didn't mean he wasn't ready for the opportunity.
"I was ready, I was excited. The longer the game went on, the more I got comfortable." said Atwood, who finished 4-of-12 for 39 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
"We're just as good or better than they were, we just didn't execute the way they did in the second half. That's what hurt us today: I didn't lead as much in the second half as I did in the first half. It showed."
Duncan did most of its damage in between the 20s in the first half, with its lone score coming off a fake punt to tie the game in the second quarter.
On fourth-and-1 on the Ardmore 46, punter Jack Braught deftly went through his kicking motion, only to tuck the ball away and outrun the entire Ardmore defense, which had shaded to the visitor's side of the field.
Duncan outgained Ardmore 332-217, with the Demons collecting all but 19 of those yards on the ground. Cody Merrill led the way with 112 yards on 19 carries and a score.
Page 2 of 2 - Merrill was one of three Demons to gain 60 or more yards on the ground. Je'Mario McCoy had 81 yards and Tanner Norton added 66, with each scoring a touchdown in the second half.
"They're stronger than us, bigger than us, and senior-oriented up front," Wendel said. "That's their style of play. I think you can tell they've been in that style of play for six or seven years."
For Ardmore, Kaine McCullough led the ground game with 50 yards on 12 carries. Twenty-one of his hard yards came on Ardmore's initial scoring drive in the second quarter.
After Atwood's fumble, he converted a wind-strewn third-and-14 pass to a diving Carter Swanson for 17 yards that ignited the Ardmore offense. The Tigers then rode McCullough to the Duncan 1, where Atwood ran it in for the 6-0 lead.
Swanson led Ardmore's receivers with two catches for 27 yards, and Surrell added 60 all-purpose yards, even connecting with Atwood on a halfback pass in the fourth quarter.
Surrell said he felt like he could move more and get the ball in space, calling the transition "for the good of the team."
"When do what's best for the team, it usually works out," said Surrell, who scored on an 8-yard pass from Atwood to put Ardmore ahead in the second quarter. "I was just telling Clay all week 'It's yours. You've got to take it, you've got to be calm, you've got to be just ready to run the show.
"I'm proud of Clay. He did a real good job, and he just stayed within the game plan and did what he was supposed to do."
Erik K. Horne