The finest year in Ardmore High School's sports history started with arguably the Tigers' finest feat.
Fourteen wins. Zero losses. A dominant football season that had future collegians, impactful coaches and unforgettable games.
There was a low scoring start against Ada, blowouts in between, survival against Carl Albert, and finally, of all things, snow.
More than anything, the last great Ardmore football team had an unbreakable bond. Hours of interviews with past figures from the 1992 Class 5A state championship squad concluded with an overwhelming theme:
Those Tigers were a team.
"Twenty years ago, we were a football team. Twenty years later, we're helping out each other in life," Class of 1993 offensive lineman Royce Evans said. "That truly was the epitome of family."
With the expansion of Oklahoma high school football to 6A, Ardmore started the season No. 1 in 5A. Expectations were lofty ... and the Tigers delivered.
Ardmore rolled through the regular season 10-0 and didn't get a close game until a 24-21 nailbiter against Carl Albert in the quarterfinals. The Tigers ended up clobbering a talented Douglass team 34-14 in the state championship game in Stillwater.
But the Tigers didn't end the season where they started. The Tigers actually went from No. 1 to No. 25.
In the nation.
Ardmore finished as the 25th ranked team in USA Today's high school football rankings. Months later, the publication shined its light yet again on Ardmore, which by the end of the school year had collected six state championships across various sports, as well as and four academic state championships.
That rare haul of hardware started on the gridiron.
Milton Cooper, then-running backs/secondary coach: (Ardmore head coach) Ronnie Tipps, he always had high expectations. From the jump, we had a great summer of workouts. We expected it, our kids expected it. All of us knew deep down that we had something kinda special there.
Evans: A few of the guys started on that state championship team in 1990. We had what we thought was a letdown that season after. When we were seniors we felt like we had something to make up after an early exit in the playoffs.
Chris Antwine, defensive back/receiver, Class of 1994: The stuff that we did in practice — we challenged each other. I was always playing scout team. I was one of the few people who would (upset) the first team by trying to show them up. My main goal was to make our first-team offense and defense look bad, to get them to concentrate. We had to do that ... we were a confident team those years. We had to do things like that to keep from getting a big head.
Taj Johnson receiver/defensive back, Class of 1993: The expectations were even bigger in football than they were for basketball. We had so much talent; we were loaded. There was no doubt in our minds that we would win the state title. We just had to go out and execute, then everything else would take care of its self.
Ronnie Tipps, then-Ardmore head coach/athletic director: As a coach you always feel like you're in danger of losing. But I feel like our kids felt like any game we went into we had a chance to win it.
Jeff Moser, quarterback, Class of 1993: One thing I remember is that it got to a point to where the offensive line would tell the defense where the play is going. You know you're doing something right when you can do that. I remember in the game against Lawton Mac, our offensive line doing that and the guys on defense laughing about it and wanting to come play for us. It was fun for the offensive lineman, we joked about it some.
Johnson: Eric Agers hit someone in one game. It was a legal hit, but the referees threw a flag because he hit him so hard. The dude had to see his life flash before his eyes. It was like nothing we had ever seen. You could hear the echo. The coaches were all cheering because that's the way you hit. They had to stop the game. Eric changed his life.
Dion Wiggins, fullback/linebacker, Class of 1993: The one that kinda stands out the most was the one that we played Ada in the very first game of the season. That first game was the most important game in getting us started. You have to go back and re-evaluate who you are, and we saw we had to make a lot of improvements. It was a game that had us as a team go "OK, what's the next step."
Moser: Ada was a tough game and Carl Albert wasn't an easy game, either. Carl Albert was a close game that could have sent the season one way or the other. That game was one of the two games that the starters played the whole game.
Wiggins: The (state quarterfinal) game against Carl Albert sticks out because that was a very, very tough game. It was one of those games that could have went either way. ... They threw, the wide receiver was open and one of my teammates, Taj Johnson, was able to come up with the pick. We wouldn't be talking about this if it wasn't for that play that he made to get us to the state championship. That was a crucial, important play.
Johnson: I was beat deep on a long throw, but it was under thrown and I was able to catch up to it and pick it off, or that might have been the end of our season. Carl Albert was by far our toughest game. We knew they were good. We knew they were capable of beating us.
THE SNOW BOWL
Wiggins: It's always fun to talk about the Snow Bowl. It doesn't snow like that in Oklahoma. What a great opportunity for us to compete against a wonderful Oklahoma City-Douglass team.
Marcus Banks, receiver, Class of 1993: I believe they (the OSSAA) were gonna cancel the game. We left Ardmore before they could make contact. All the other games that day were canceled. ... To me, it was state. No matter what conditions we played in, we were gonna win anyway.
Cooper: I really didn't think we would play it because of the weather conditions. The way Ronnie sold it to the kids was "how many of you all like playing in the snow?" ... Our kids had fun. We played like it was nothing on the ground.
Tipps: We got there and Oklahoma City-Douglass was there also. We looked around and we were there and there was no Oklahoma Secondary School people there. (Douglass coach Stanford White) and I met down there and we talked about it. We said "Look, if we say we're gonna play, we both have to agree to play the game." He said "let's play."
Banks: When we first got to the stadium, I remember some of the players were talking about the snow, talking about the conditions. It was Jeff Moser who was talking to some of the seniors, saying "I just don't see us losing no matter what the conditions are." We also had an excellent coaching staff that wouldn't sell anything less than winning.
Tipps: We just kinda had a motto. I went into our kids and said "The Ardmore Tigers said they'd play in rain, sleet, snow or hail ... well it's snowing, and we're playing."
Evans: We had some times during the season where we met some teams where we struggled, but that Snow Bowl, that was unreal. You couldn't see lines on the field. It was basically two teams lining up in a field somewhere and ripping each others' heads off.
Antwine: (Against Douglass) The star (future Oklahoma State standout tight end Alonzo Mayes) player on the other team was considered an NFL-type player. We wanted to prove ourselves. We kinda knew after the first quarter that their team was mainly him. ... There wasn't too many people complaining about how difficult it was to play against them. On our end, it was a pretty easy game.
Tipps: Their speed and being able to control the football and keep it out of their hands; that was our concern. It didn't matter whether it was snowing or not; we felt like our defense was pretty good and our offense was pretty good too. ... (Da'Wuan) Lawson broke that first one and went the distance. That gave us a lot of confidence early, let us know we can run on these guys.
Johnson: Da'Wuan Lawson, that dude was unbelievable. I would sometimes look around and we were all thinking, "Man, this guy is really, really good."
Cooper: We knew that they were a running threat first, but we were outstanding in the back. ... They weren't going to throw the ball and beat us; they were gonna run it if they were gonna beat us. ... I remember telling our free safety, who said "Coach, what if he (Mayes) does this," and I said 'forget the technique and just back up.' For some reason, we didn't do a lot of falling and they just kept falling.
Evans: That was probably the first time probably at halftime, where I kinda stepped back and looked at the guys ... it was one of those deals where you looked back and said "yeah, we can hang with anybody."
Tipps: For me, the one play that stands out: It was third-and-1, barely towards midfield. The conditions are so bad and I remember thinking "we're not gonna punt it, we're gonna go for it on fourth down." We hit Taj on the long one and I remember that was kind of the point (when Ardmore felt in control).
Moser: I always had the option of checking out of the play if he had 1-on-1 against the corner. I'd look at him (Johnson) and he'd give me a signal, but he always wanted to take people deep, so most of the time, it was a fade route. That play, we looked at each other and he gave me the signal. He broke free pretty quickly and from there, it was done.
Johnson: I knew a lot of guys from Douglass and on that play, I look across and I know this dude is not standing right in from of me. I actually think it was third-and-1. ... I look at Jeff and we did the check. He threw it up and I went and got it. Once I was by him, it was gone. And the game was over. It was an easy pitch and catch.
Moser: It really wasn't much of a challenge for him. He always knew he could beat the guy and he always did. I always felt comfortable throwing to him because if he didn't run past them, he'd out jump them.
Cooper: We were gonna take whatever was given to us. We threw it to Taj Johnson several times and pounded it with Dion Wiggins. It was a combination of running, throwing it. We approached it like a regular ball game.
Wiggins: I don't even know how many yards I had, how many tackles I had. I couldn't even tell you (Editor's note: Wiggins was named game MVP with 107 yards rushing, and 10 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble). The way coach Tipps prepared us was to not worry about the stats, who had the most touchdowns, who had the most stats, who scored. That was one of the best messages I've learned from him.
Tipps: I can remember after the game, and the kids standing out there and holding up the trophy. My wife was standing beside me. I looked at her, she looked at me. I was so proud of the kids and what they'd done and the coaches. We had a lot of people in the community that helped in so many ways.
Banks: One thing about coach Tipps was he was able to get the most out of his players. It's one thing to be good at X's and O's but it's something else to be able to pull that little bit extra from your players. He had a great knack for that.
Wiggins: One thing that our head coach did for us, was he said "don't believe the headlines." We really didn't read the papers. To tell you the truth, 20 years later, I didn't even know we were ranked No. 1 in the preseason. He did and excellent job of helping us stay focused on what the goal was.
Evans: You'll never be around greater football minds than coach Tipps, coach Young, coach Williams ... the man hours those guys put in to get us prepared. We would come in for morning workouts and they'd be there, we'd leave in the afternoon and they'd still be there ... the gameplan they put in week end and week out, it made it easy for us to go out and step on the football field on Friday night.
Moser: Our coaches were exceptional. There were a lot of guys on that team that didn't have a father figure at home, and our coaches really took us under their wing. We were a tough group to coach, but I know every player on the team would credit a lot of what we did to the coaching staff.
Wiggins: The one thing that they showed us was that relationships are so important — relationships with your coaches, the relationships that you have with the players on your team. Those relationships are still special to this day, and that's what I've done in carrying over into my own coaching.
Johnson: They always had us prepared. We knew what the other team was going to do and that gave us confidence out there. Four or five could have been head coaches at the time.
THE COMPARISON: '90 VS '92?
Banks: My brother, Michael Banks (starting safety in 1990), and I ... we have debates about who was a better team. We have comparisons, player by player. We break it down, which team was better. We talk about that era of football, that era in general.
Cooper: If the two had to play each other, I don't know what would be the outcome of that. The '90 team we didn't know. The '92 team, they had been with us a longer time. We knew they were gonna be something special when they got there.
Johnson: I think we were good in '90. We had Rafael Denson and he had world-class speed. They had some other good guys, too, but they didn't have the overall talent from top to bottom like we did. We scored, but we didn't score as easily in '90.
Tipps: We had a '90 team that was really good and a '91 team that was really good. I don't like to compare teams with one or the other, but they (92) were a very special group.
Moser: I think there were a lot of similarities between the '90 team and us. The '90 team was just as phenomenal of a squad as we were. We each had a different mix of players and talent. It's hard to compare the two teams, because we had a lot of guys on our squad that contributed to the 1990 championship.
TWENTY YEARS OF TALK
Antwine: Every time I come back to Ardmore, I see somebody I played with. The conversation isn't toward one particular game. Our main memories were toward the year in general, how many state championships we've won, and the simple fact that Ardmore hasn't done anything like that since then.
Wiggins: It doesn't take long for it to start to come out. There's still that connection with the community because we want to see every team that comes after us to go undefeated, win the state championship.
Cooper: We talk about those days in Ardmore, how fortunate we were. That group of coaches, we still stay in contact, we still talk often. Even though we're spread out, we still talk often.
Moser: Two guys in my neighborhood played at Duncan and Dickson that year, phenomenal athletes, and we still talk about that Ardmore football team quite a bit. Two or three times a year, I'll be talking to someone and when they hear that I'm from Ardmore, they always ask about those teams, not even knowing that I had anything to do with it.
Johnson: When talking to friends, we talk about it from time to time. Hands down, we were the best team in the state. We would have beaten anyone. Norman won in 6A, but they wouldn't have scored against us ... (we) would have beaten them 60-12.
Evans: You never forget. At the end of the day, you go to reminiscing about old stories. I'm honored that I was a part of that great football team, and not just the football team, but I'm honored to be a part of that group (1993).
Antwine: We knew each other. Everybody knew how each other played. It was all about competition. Everybody knew each other's strengths and weaknesses. It all started in middle school, being coached by coach T.C. Varner. We went into that season knowing those are the same teams we played against in middle school and we defeated.
Moser: We had a lot of talent, which you can't really substitute for anything. But we also had guys who were close to each other and had grown up together. We were a tight knit group.
Wiggins: One thing in me, I wanted to play for the guys next to me. You've got to trust the guy next to you. I just wanted to pour everything I had into that game, to contribute to the best of my ability to everyone else that was on that team.
Cooper: With all the talent we had in that group, Ronnie did an outstanding job of handling that number of talented players. There were superstars, but there were no superstars.
Tipps: That was a very special group. We thought that we had a chance, but you just never know as a coach. I think that those kids kinda just came together and believed in each other. We had an outstanding group of kids and an outstanding group of coaches. They just had a great chemistry among themselves.
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