The maturation of an entire season comes to this.
Ardmore’s young squad faces arguably its biggest test tonight against Class 5A No. 2 Deer Creek. The Antlers (9-1) come in as the District 5A-2 champions after stunning then-No. 1 Bishop McGuinness in the final week of the season.
Coming out on top of a district some consider the deepest in Class 5A is no joke. Three of 5A-2’s four playoff teams from — Deer Creek, Bishop McGuinness and Guthrie — are ranked in the AP’s top 5. Perennial power Carl Albert placed fourth in the district.
Ardmore coach Douglas Wendel is unconcerned with the perceived strength of 5A-2. He’s only concerned with the Tigers.
“It looks like it was strong 1 thorugh 4. We’ll know Saturday how strong it was,” Wendel said of 5A-2. “Their district may sweep ours, we may sweep them. That’s why they play the games.
“I don’t feel like we have anything to prove. We’re just trying to get better each week and be the best we can possibly be, and we’ve challenged our kids to have our best game on Friday night.
The last meeting between the two teams was also in the first round — a 19-12 Antlers win at Noble Stadium in 2010. In that game, Deer Creek quarterback Joel Blumenthal was just a sophomore who got spot duty behind bruising quarterback Alex Christensen.
Now, Blumenthal is one of the leading passers in 5A, with 2,133 yards, 26 touchdowns and just three interceptions in 10 games. The Antlers’ top rushing threat is Brennan Miyake (15 TDs in nine games).
Defensively, Deer Creek has only allowed more than 14 points once all season.
“They’re a good football team,” Wendel said. “They’re explosive on offense. They do a lot of good things, but we like our matchup.”
Despite a 41-20 loss last week to Lawton MacArthur, Ardmore was within striking distance of the district runner-up at halftime, in part to another consistent offensive performance. Ardmore’s offense has scored 20 points or more in five of its last six games.
That effort will need to be duplicated tonight in order for the Tigers’ season to continue.
“We played exceptionally hard last week, and we played well at times,” Wendel said. “But it’s gonna take a complete game of playing well.”
Erik K. Horne