Following a perfect undefeated season, and two solid performances in the playoffs thus far, the No. 2 Ardmore Tigers find themselves closing in on the ultimate prize: a state title.
However, in order to get a chance at playing for the big gold trophy, the Tigers have to overcome one more obstacle this week.
At 7 p.m. Friday night at Charles W. Sheid Stadium in Oklahoma City (Western Heights High School), the Tigers will face a familiar foe when they go head-to-head with the No. 5 Bishop Kelley Comets (10-2) in the Class 5A state semifinals.
The winner of this contest will take on either No. 1 Carl Albert or No. 3 Collinsville in the Class 5A state championship game next week.
These two teams have met only once in the last few years, with the Tigers winning 37-29 against the Comets in the 2016 Quarterfinals at Angelo Prassa Field in Tulsa.
2016 was also the last time an Ardmore team played in the state semifinals.
In order for the Tigers (12-0) to make it back to the state finals for the first time since 1992, they will have to overcome a Comets team which coach Josh Newby admitted has his full attention.
“Coach (J.J.) Tappanna has done an amazing job coaching those young men,” he said. “They have a great scheme they run, along with a solid offensive line. They just execute at a high level, and we have to find a way to stop them if we’re going to have any chance of winning.”
Bishop Kelley is in the state semifinals for the first time since 1999, but coach Tappanna is all to familiar with the feeling of being in the final four with the Comets, since he was an assistant coach on the last Comets team to reach this point in the playoffs.
“He’s (Tappanna) been there when they have had success, and now he’s brought them back to that same point,” Newby said. “It pays off having someone who is as experienced as he is. You can tell the kids have really bought into what he and his staff are teaching them, and it’s worked.”
Last week in the Class 5A quarterfinals, Bishop Kelley avenged its own demons from earlier this season when the Comets took down the defending two-time state runner-up in Bishop McGuinness.
The victory over the Fighting Irish was the first in four tries for the Comets, as they pulled out a dramatic 34-33 victory, thanks to a halfback pass touchdown thrown from tailback Zach Middleton to Cori Lewis for 67 yards late in the fourth quarter.
Lewis is one of the main weapons for the Comets this season, as he has totalled 11 touchdown receptions this season.
Leading the Comets offense this season is senior quarterback Jack Barkley, who stands at 6’1” 220 pounds, along with junior Stephen Collins, who stands at 6’0” 170 pounds.
Barkley, known as “Big Red” to the Comets fans, is known for his hard style of running, which was on full display last week against the Fighting Irish, as well as his throwing ability, as he threw the opening touchdown of the game against McGuinness.
“I’m very impressed with him (Barkley) from what I’ve seen on film,” Newby said. “He runs the ball hard, and he executes the offense very well. Another thing is that he’s physical, and he gets up in there. This kid knows what he’s doing out there.”
Ardmore will counter with its own offensive attack, which is led by senior quarterback Tero Roberts, who accounted for four touchdowns last week against the Coweta Tigers in a 48-13 victory at Noble Stadium.
Other Ardmore players who will be looking to make an impact this week are Cameron Petties, Eean Ross, Jadrein Monroe, and Nathan Taylor.
Petties, Ross, Monroe and Roberts have all accounted for more than 300 yards rushing each this season.
These two teams have plenty of common opponents this season, as the Comets were the district champion of 5A-3, which housed Ada, Coweta, McAlester and Durant.
It was Edison Prep who gave the Comets their closest game of the district season though, as the Comets managed to win 31-20 on Sept. 28.
The 20 points given up in week five was the third of four times in the regular season the Comets gave up at least 20 or more points.
Last week’s 33 points surrendered to the Fighting Irish were the most Bishop Kelley has allowed this season.
Ardmore defeated Ada, Durant, and McAlester in non-district play, before dispatching of Coweta last week in the quarterfinals.
Meanwhile, Ardmore has allowed just 20 points one time this season, with it coming against the Noble Bears (42-20), and has held opponents below 15 points nine times this season including twice in the playoffs.
The Tigers allowed a total of 14 points in their first three games against Ada, McAlester and Durant, while allowing just 13 points against Coweta.