ALTUS With his team trailing at halftime, Altus coach Todd Vargas issued a challenge, and the players responded accordingly.
The Bulldogs shut MacArthur down in the second half, leading to a gritty 26-15 win in District 5A-1 action at Hightower Memorial Stadium on Friday night.
"We knew it was going to be a real gut-check, and we told them it was going to be a war and a battle," Vargas said. "That half was over, we had to correct things and the kids came out and played extremely hard and extremely physical and really well."
The always stout Altus defense held the Highlanders to only 68 yards in the second half and 231 total. The Bulldogs also intercepted Racer Felter three times twice in the fourth quarter one of which was returned for a touchdown to seal the victory.
With less than five minutes remaining in the game and Mac down 19-15, Felter looked to Trey Longacre on a bubble screen, but Garrett Pride read the play perfectly.
Longacre was the primary target throughout the game, finishing with six receptions for 78 yards and touchdown, and thanks to a keen observation, Pride knew what was coming.
Pride stepped in front of the ill-advised throw and returned the ball 61 yards for a touchdown, extending Altus' lead to 11 points with 4:33 to go.
"I watched film multiple times on that play, and I just knew it was coming," Pride said. "So I stepped up and made the interception and ran it back.
"(Felter) looked over to the sideline, and I saw the coach point at (Longacre). I scooted out a little more and stepped up a little bit, and he threw the ball over there and I ran over there and picked it off."
Jake Vargas and Noah Briones came away with the other two interceptions.
Mac coach Brett Manning said the Bulldogs' increased tenacity and physicality in the second half led to the crushing turnovers.
"They were getting some pressure on us, and he wasn't able to throw on time," Manning said. "When you don't throw on time against good people, they recover in a hurry."
It was a tale of two halves for the sophomore quarterback.
After a 15-yard touchdown run from Jake Vargas gave Altus an early 7-0 lead, Felter led the Highlanders down in the field in less than two minutes, connecting with Longacre on a 13-yard strike to give Mac a one-point advantage after Nick Mahan converted on the ensuing 2-point conversion.
Felter was at it again the second quarter, finding Ja'Sean Carter, who made an impressive grab in double coverage, for a 32-yard touchdown to increase the lead to 15-7 with 11:40 remaining in the half.
Felter completed 7 of his 10 passes in the first half, but went 2-of-9 in the latter half, throwing more interceptions than completions.
"We had a feeling they were going to throw," Vargas said. "Our kids just really read their keys well and made some really big plays."
Manning said his team simply didn't play well enough offensively to win against a highly-ranked opponent like Altus.
"We just didn't make plays in the second half," Manning said. "We'd have a negative play or we just couldn't get it going. We have to put a complete game together, and I really don't feel like we have yet.