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For the second week in a row, the Hardin-Central Bulldogs will take on a struggling program. After demolishing Union Star 45-0 in just one half last week, the Bulldogs open District 1 play tonight by hosting Heartland at Lee Meador Field.
Although Heartland, from Belton, has played 8-man football in the past, this is its first season playing with MSHSAA. The Mustangs will bring an 0-6 mark to town following last week’s 63-28 loss to Norborne. Heartland lost by forfeit to St. Joseph Christian Academy, and has also been blanked 68-0 at Mound City and 83-0 by Stanberry.
Hardin-Central Coach Kirk Thacker said his 3-3 team will not be looking ahead.
“We’re looking at this game,” Thacker said. “We are totally focused on the Mustangs this week. We’re not going to take a chance. We learned our lesson a few years ago. All these guys were on the team and we were looking ahead to the playoff game instead of Miami and it came back to bite us and cost a playoff spot, so we’re not taking any team lightly.”
That being said, Thacker knows it’s a little tough to get the entire team focused.
“The younger ones are very excited and they’re ready to go,” he said. “The older ones – the starters – know they are not going to be playing that much and it really hurts them for the games coming up that they do have to play a full game.”
The Heartland offense likes to give opponents a lot of different looks according to Thacker. The Mustangs will run a few double tight alignments with I-backs and will, from time to time, send twins to each side and run from the spread.
Going into last week’s game, the Bulldog defense had been struggling – especially against the pass as Hardin-Central had dropped back-to-back contests. Thacker feels his defense has fixed some of those problem areas.
“We’ve been working and working every week on pass defense,” he said. “We had a couple of hiccoughs last week. They didn’t catch the ball, but we got caught a few times with receivers open downfield. Overall, we haven’t had a pass rush in the last few weeks and I think we’ve gotten that taken care of.”
One area the Bulldogs have been consistent with this season is the rushing attack.
Hardin-Central ran for 513 yards two weeks ago and picked up 266 in one half last week. Thacker said the Heartland defense will probably load up to stop the run with a 5-man front that they showed against Norborne. The Mustangs also switched to a 4-2-2 and Thacker said his Dawgs might have to throw the ball a bit to get Heartland off the line.
PHOTO: Hardin-Central senior Patrick King had a busy night Friday as the Bulldogs hosted Union Star. King ran for 53 yards and a touchdown, and also intercepted a pass and returned it for another score as the Dawgs thumped the Trojans, 45-0. (Photo by JoEllen Black/The Daily News)