Of the 46 players that dressed for Ardmore's season-opening game Friday night against West Morgan, 36 of them had never played in a varsity football game before.
But the inexperience didn't bother the Tigers too bad, as they used two special teams touchdowns and a strong defensive effort to overcome four first-quarter turnovers and take a 27-9 victory over the Rebels.
“We fell behind and had some bad things going for us, but we did not get our heads down,” Ardmore coach P.J. Wright said. “We talked about it before the game. Good stuff will happen and bad stuff will happen, but we've just got to keep an even keel the whole time. The game is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Bad things happened early for the Ardmore, as the Tigers couldn't hang on to the ball in the opening quarter and each of their first four possessions ended in a turnover.
West Morgan finally took advantage of the turnovers and took a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by Kaden Cook late in the period.
However, Ardmore answered right back when Conner Harbin received the ensuing kickoff and sprinted 85 yards for a touchdown. Xzander Atkins tied the game with his first of three successful extra points.
Ardmore finally got its offense going midway through the second quarter, as Owen Doss raced in the end zone from 5 yards out to give the Tigers their first lead of the game.
Another special teams score expanded the lead, as Luke Hogan blocked a punt that Dylan Lanier scooped up and returned 18 yards for a touchdown with 2:02 remaining before halftime. This gave the Tigers a 20-7 lead they would carry into the half.
“It was lucky that we got a kickoff return for a touchdown and a blocked punt for a touchdown,” Wright said. “It helped offset our offensive struggles early in the game.”
Ardmore put the game away midway through the third quarter on a 16-yard touchdown run by Luke Hogan to go up 27-7. The Tigers took an intentional safety late in the game after being backed up on their own 1-yard line to give West Morgan its final two points.
Ardmore's defense had a great game, holding West Morgan to just 74 rushing yards and 73 passing yards in the contest.
“We stopped them on two fourth-down conversion attempts, which were huge, and also intercepted a pass in the end zone,” Wright said. “Overall, the defensive game plan was very good, and the kids executed it well.”
The Tigers had 171 rushing yards in the game, and Thomas Colston led the way with 63 yards on 10 carries. Hogan had 61 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.
Wright said the team's inexperience might have actually helped them recover from the poor start to the game.
“An experienced player would say, 'Oh boy, we're in trouble,' but the inexperienced player is like, 'Let's just keep playing. We'll overcome this.'” Wright said. “They don't know any better.”
Ardmore (1-0) will travel to play Elkmont (0-1) next Friday in a county rivalry game.