Bulldogs, Vernon renew Red River rivalry

By Mark Glenn, sports editor

August 29, 2013

If you want to see a high school football game in the state of Oklahoma on Friday night there is only place to go. Hightower Memorial Stadium in Altus.

The Altus High School Bulldogs and the Vernon Lions renew their rivalry in a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

Normally these two schools would have played on Sept. 6. But Vernon scheduled a different opponent for that night. That meant the game had to be moved but it created a problem. Texas high schools are permitted to begin their season in August while the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Secondary Activities Association say their member schools can’t play until September.

Altus officials asked the OSSAA permission to play the game early and the governing body granted that request. But the OSSAA made it clear that this is a one time deal. Altus and Vernon will have to work out a deal if the long standing series is to continue.

Certainly the fact that Altus is the only team in Oklahoma to play on Friday is something special.

“It really is,” AHS Head Football Coach Chad Stone said. “When you think there are 300 to 400 teams and just one is playing and the others are not, it’s special.”

Altus had to get ready quickly. They began workouts on Aug. 12 and they have had one less week of practice than they normally would have had, plus only one scrimmage. That made things difficult for the Bulldogs.

“It does,” Stone said. “You would like to take that extra time to work on some wrinkles and you want to run your full compliment of offense. Plus you could put in all of your blitzes.”

Vernon began practice a week earlier and had two scrimmages.

That could put the Bulldogs at a disadvantage however there are things working in their favor. Altus has switched to the veer offense and in last week’s scrimmage against Weatherford and Frederick, they used only three plays. The should come out with a more diversified attack Friday night. Vernon saw Altus for the first time last Friday and they have had only one week to prepare for that offense that very few teams run.

Altus however has had more time to prepare for Vernon since the Lions are running the same wing-t offense they used last year.

“They are a familiar foe and we’ve (players included) have been watching film since the end of last year,” Stone said.

The big weapons for Vernon are quarterback David Garcia (6-0, 165, Sr.) and fullback Orlando Haymon (6-0, 205, Sr.). Garcia is a pass run threat who likes to role out on the pass-run option. “He’s real aggressive,” said Stone. “He likes to run and he does a good job running the football.”

Haymon broke a couple of long runs on trap plays in last game with the Bulldogs.

“They (Vernon) want to run the football. Their run-pass ration is 65-35 (percent) but they run a lot of sprint where he has the option to run or pass. So its really 85-15 (percent).”

Defensively the Lions are in a 3-4 set with seven in the box. But Stone said that last year it looked like an old 52 defense with five defensive linemen. “They will bring two safeties (closer to the line of scrimmage) to defense the run. It’s going to be a test of wills.”

Keys to victory

It will be important for the Bulldogs to keep Garcia and Haymon under control. “If we can do that, we will be in good shape to win the game,” Stone said.

Offensively the Bulldogs will showcase their depth at running back. Taven Birdow and T.J McGill will get the start but Malcom Lewis, who will start at cornerback on defense, will see duty at running back as will Eric Perez, who will also play linebacker.

“We want to control the ball,” Stone said. “We want to keep them (Vernon offense) off the field. We want to wear them down.”

Depth will be important because it will be a hot night. Vernon is slated to send eight people both ways while the Bulldogs will begin the game with 22 different starters. Stone did said he planned to make a lot of substitutions during the game.

Bulldog notes: Since it’s the only game in the state, the game should have many visitors from other towns. However, many teams will have their final scrimmages so coaches and fans of those schools will not attend. However, one coach will make a long trip to see the game. Craig Benson, head coach at Sallisaw, will be in attendance. His son, Brandon Benson is an assistant coach with Altus.

It’s still 2013, but it’s not too early to talk about the Altus schedule for 2014.

The Bulldogs will be in a district with Oklahoma City Northwest Classen, El Reno, Ardmore, Lawton MacArthur, Duncan, Chickasha and Del City. OC Southeast is moving to another district while Oklahoma City Capitol Hill is going independent.

There will be two different non district foes on the slate next year. Altus has dropped Lawton High and Lawton Eisenhower and will play Anadarko and Elk City.