Most high school football coaches that will say a season is divided up into three phases. 

A non-district phase, a district phase, and the playoff phase. 

This week, the No. 2 Ardmore Tigers (3-0) will begin what they hope is the next phase of a successful season.

But in order to make it back-to-back district titles, the Tigers will have to navigate through a loaded district 5A-1, which consists of four teams currently sporting 3-0 records. 

Step one of the district journey will take place at 7:30 p.m. tonight as the Tigers play host to the Lawton MacArthur Highlanders (1-2) at Noble Stadium. The game was moved to Thursday due an increase of inclement weather expected on Friday. 

“MacArthur gets everyone’s attention whether its our players or our coaching staff,” Ardmore coach Josh Newby said. “They have controlled our district for many years, and beaten us since 2014 every time. Our kids know they are going to have to play for 48 minutes to have a chance to win.” 

Ardmore fans will be all too familiar with the Highlanders from this historic rivalry, as last season MacArthur was the only blemish on an otherwise spotless district title run for the Tigers.

A 36-7 defeat by the Highlanders in the regular season finale at Cameron Stadium sent the Tigers into the playoffs on a losing note. 

The last time MacArthur visited Noble
Stadium came in the 2016 regular season finale, where the Highlanders escaped with a narrow 28-27 victory. 

Ardmore has not defeated the Highlanders at home since 2014, with the Tigers winning 27-22, and has not started a season 4-0 since 2015. 

The last time these two teams met in a district opener was in 2011 at Ardmore, with MacArthur winning 45-14.

MacArthur has not lost a district opener since back-to-back losses in 2012 and 2013 against Del City. 

This season though, it’s been all about the defense for the Tigers through three games.

Not only have the Tigers allowed their lowest opponents point total since 2004 (16 points) with 14 points, but Ardmore’s defensive unit has also totaled 10 turnovers through three games, including eight interceptions. 

Another talking point for the Ardmore defense is the fact they have not allowed a single point in the first, second or fourth quarters this season through three games. 

Last week at Hook Eales Stadium in McAlester, it was Chris Lewis and Michael Bruner each grabbing a pair of interceptions as the Tigers steamrolled their way to a 42-7 victory. 

“We told the kids we were proud of them for winning the first three games of the year,” Newby said. “This is the one that matters. Our kids are very aware that this is a district game and this carries a lot of weight.” 

On the other side of the coin with the Highlanders, it’s been a tough couple of weeks.

After handling Eisenhower in the opening game of the season, MacArthur is in the midst of a two-game losing streak after defeats against Lawton High, and Clinton last week in the Tornado Bowl by a score of 31-12. 

However last season the Highlanders were 1-2 through their first three games of the season, and managed to win their fourth game of the year, which was the district opener against Western Heights. 

To add to the misery last week, the victory for the Red Tornadoes was the first over MacArthur in school history, and it made Clinton only the second program in the state of Oklahoma to reach the 800 win mark in football.

MacArthur got its points in the third and fourth quarter last week when Racer Felter found Aeron Woodson for a 25-yard touchdown pass to make it 17-6 at that point, before Nasir Kemper scored on a 15-yard rushing touchdown late in the fourth.

“They (MacArthur) have an amazing screen game all around,” Newby said. “Racer (Felter) is an amazing quarterback. In my opinion he is one of the best quarterbacks MacArthur has had in my 20 years coaching. He can read so many things and knows how to make plays when it counts.”