Ardmore handles Altus with potent run game

Young or not, Ardmore had a goal this season to make the playoffs. The Tigers got it done on Friday.

Clay Atwood ran for 172 yards and three touchdowns, and Ardmore locked up the final postseason spot out of District 5A-1 with a 42-21 win over Altus on Senior Night at Noble Stadium. The Tigers (5-4, 4-2 District 5A-1) also fared relatively well against Altus' dynamic running back Diquan Woodhouse.

The Division I recruit had 136 yards rushing and two touchdowns, with his final score coming with the game well in hand in the fourth quarter. The Tigers were already ahead two scores before Woodhouse made his first impact play, and Altus (2-7, 2-4) was left chasing an Ardmore team that was attack-minded on both sides of the ball.

Ardmore piled up 446 yards of offense — all on the ground — while the Tigers held Altus to 235 yards of total offense and forced three turnovers.

"We really stressed about whenever we make first contact to wrap up," senior linebacker C.T. Roan said. "28 (Woodhouse) is a great player, but the defense really jelled together throughout the entire game."

The offense was locked in from the beginning, with Atwood his most comfortable all season under center. With Altus determined to take away the pitch man in Ardmore's read-option offense, Atwood made the Bulldogs' over-aggressive defense pay.

The freshman had plenty of room on quarterback keepers, carrying a career-high 23 times. His sound decisions opened up the rest of the running game as well, as junior running back Jamarcus Mills rushed 11 times for 108 yards and two touchdowns.

The Tigers averaged nearly 9 yards a carry on 51 runs.

"We had a good gameplan," Atwood said. "We knew what they were gonna do to us, that they would attack the pitch man. We knew what we would have to do right out of the gate, and it showed on the first drive."

Atwood marched Ardmore 71 yards right down the field on its first possession. He scored from 16 yards out to put the Tigers ahead at the 8:46 mark of the first quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff, Woodhouse fumbled at the 16-yard line, and C.J. Long fell on the ball for Ardmore. Three plays later, Kydric Knox was in the end zone on a 7-yard TD run at 7:48.

Woodhouse ripped off a 44-yard touchdown run on the next possession, but his long score accounted for more than half of Altus' rushing yardage (85) before halftime.

Touchdown runs of 12 yards and 1 yard from Mills and Atwood, respectively, gave Ardmore a 28-14 lead at the break. Atwood and Mills weren't finished. The duo produced Ardmore's two longest scores of the night in the third quarter, on touchdown runs of 38 and 49 yards to up the Tigers' advantage to 42-14.

Ardmore didn't come out of the game unscathed. Altus brought physical play on defense, sending Ardmore fullbacks Knox (concussion) and Jarred Hall (knee) to the bench. Their statuses are unknown for next week's game at Lawton MacArthur.

The Tigers will definitely be without starting safety Rontrey Burkhalter, who broke his ankle in practice last week and is expected to be out up to six weeks.

Filling in for Burkhalter at safety, Andrew Clark picked off a pass in the fourth quarter. In the second half, Jeff Surrell and Clark each had an interception, which offset two Ardmore turnovers.

"Everybody's just worked hard in practice," said Clark, who recorded his first varsity INT. "That's where it started at. We just grind and grind. That's what we do."

After the regular season finale at Lawton MacArthur, the Tigers will likely face Bishop McGuinness in the first round of the playoffs, as the Irish stunned then-No. 1 Guthrie 32-0 on Friday. Regardless of the opponent, it will be yet another maturation game in what's been a season of growth for Ardmore.

The season will be marked by another playoff appearance — a goal reached by a group many expected little from.

"It's the expectation around here," Ardmore coach Douglas Wendel said. "We were confident in February, putting a plan together of what we wanted to do with this team and this program moving forward that we were going to be able to do it. We've still got work to do."

Erik K. Horne