Tigers faces talented, but different MacArthur squad

Did Ardmore coach Douglas Wendel dare look at tape from last year's Ardmore-Lawton MacArthur Class 5A state semifinal game?

The answer to that question fell into what Wendel has stressed time-after-time this season.

"None. I haven't even," Wendel said. "The defense might have but I didn't even ask coach (Josh) Newby if he did.

"We're a different offense, a different team. They graduated a lot, so it doesn't have any use for me."

When Ardmore lines up against Lawton MacArthur tonight for the two teams' third meeting in less than a year, it will be much different than the set of circumstances surrounding their last meeting. In 2011, the Highlanders beat Ardmore 56-2 in the state semifinals behind an offensive and defensive gameplan that was heavily reliant on experience in the trenches.

This year, MacArthur is without 10 starters on those fronts from last season. In the beginning of the season, the Highlanders relied more on their passing game as Division I running back prospect Darius Graham sat out games due to injury.

Graham was held under 100 yards in the Tigers' first meeting last year, but rushed for 150 yards and three scores in the semifinal matchup. According to coach Newby, the Highlanders have reverted to about a 65-35 run-pass ratio as the season has progressed.

"I think our defense is going to play great," Wendel said. "The coaching staff has a real good plan in place.

"Offensively, they're probably the best defense we've gone against."

Junior safety Carter Swanson said the plan on defense has changed since last season. Swanson was one of few players on the current Ardmore team to see action against Lawton Mac in 2011.

"It's a different game plan," Swanson said. "This year we're going to try to get a lot more pressure on them."

What will apply even more pressure is an offense that can move the chains. Ardmore has been far more successful offensively as the season has progressed, as the Tigers have scored 45.3 points per game in their last three contests (3-0).

Since the offense has matured, Swanson said the other side of the ball has found things a lot easier.

"It's taken a lot of pressure off of our defense," Swanson said. "We feel like we don't have to carry the team as much now."

MacArthur (7-2, 5-1 District 5A-1) enters tonight's game on a three-game winning streak of its own, including a convincing 15-0 shutout of Duncan on the road.

Over their last five games, the Highlanders have given up one touchdown in the first half. That makes the task of scoring even tougher on Ardmore, who will be without freshman fullback Kydric Knox (concussion).

Wendel said the Tigers will use a rotation of Kaine McCullough, Jarred Hall and Darius Lawson at fullback.

They'll all be needed against the Highlanders. Each team is locked into a playoff spot, with a Lawton MacArthur currently in second in 5A-1 behind Del City. Ardmore can move up to as high as second with a victory and Duncan loss to Chickasha.

"They shut out and dominated a very good Duncan offensive line," Wendel said of Lawton MacArthur. "We're gonna have to throw the ball and mix it up a little bit, try to win the field position and special teams battle.

"We're up for the challenge and are looking forward to seeing where we stack up with them."

Erik K. Horne