YUKON — Lawton MacArthur coach Brett Manning was abundantly confident in his defense's ability to contain Ardmore in Saturday's Class 5A state semifinal.
How confident? When the Highlanders won the pregame coin toss at Miller Stadium, Manning chose to have the wind at his team's back, giving Ardmore the ball to start both halves.
With the gusting wind behind them, Lawton MacArthur scored three first-quarter touchdowns and coasted to a 56-2 win Saturday that sends them into the 5A title game against No. 1 Guthrie at 11 a.m. Friday at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater.
“We were trying to pin them down deep, go three-and-out and get the ball in really good field position with the wind,” Manning said. “We wanted to get two or three scores on them and the defense came through for me. They made it a good decision.”
In the Highlanders' first four offensive series, they never started outside the Ardmore 30-yard line.
Quarterback Taylor Chasteen connected with Quinton Paras and Dewayne Sanford for a pair of touchdown passes, and Darius Graham added a 22-yard touchdown run as Lawton MacArthur built a quick and commanding 22-0 lead.
“Every time we kick off, I tell the defense to set the tempo,” said Graham, a junior who rushed 22 times for 151 yards and three touchdowns. “They set it every time. When we get out there on offense, we're fired up and we take care of business ourselves.”
Ardmore looked like it might be able to turn the tide in the second quarter. A 69-yard punt by Ashdon Perry pinned MacArthur at its 1-yard line, and a botched play led to a Tiger safety on the next snap. But Ardmore couldn't seize any momentum, thanks to the Highlander defense.
Ardmore finished with just 87 total yards, and had 10 first-half snaps go for negative yardage in a game that was even more lopsided than the Highlanders' 45-14 win at Ardmore in the regular season.
“We were just trying to be more physical and go get the win,” defensive lineman Braylon Freeman said. “Just because we beat them the first time, we knew they were in the semifinals for a reason.
“We felt a lot of momentum, because we kept stopping them when they were going against the wind.”
Ardmore opened the year 1-3 and concluded the regular season at 6-4 but made an impressive playoff run that included two big road wins at Carl Albert and Pryor. The Tigers finished the year at 8-5.
Lawton MacArthur now turns its focus to the gold ball in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup with Guthrie.
“This is inspirational to me. It's amazing,” Graham said. “Ever since I was young, it's been my dream to play for the Highlanders for a state championship, and it's real close. We're almost there.”