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Two seasons ago, Hardin-Central entered its game against Miami with a chance to end its playoff drought. By his own admission, Bulldog Coach Kirk Thacker said his team took them a little lightly and the result was two fumbles returned for touchdowns and a 36-30 loss to the Eagles – and no playoffs.
Even with the safety net of two district teams making the 8-man playoffs this season, there is no chance the Bulldogs are looking any further than Friday night’s 2 1/2-hour drive to take on the Eagles.
“We remember two years ago when we went down there and didn’t take them very seriously and it ended up costing us a playoff spot,” Thacker recalled. “Our juniors and seniors were on that team and so they are taking it very seriously and trying to help out some of the younger kids and helping them get focused.”
The Bulldogs did gain some measure of revenge last year with a 54-6 win over visiting Miami.
Thacker also knows that a win over the 4-3 Eagles puts them in the driver’s seat to win the district, and with that, a home field advantage for a possible rematch with St. Joseph Christian.
“If we’re going to face them in a rematch, I would much prefer that be the semifinal game and not first round,” Thacker said. “There are always people you’re going to have to play at some point and it doesn’t matter if it’s a championship game or not, you have to face them some time and beat them to continue.”
The Bulldogs defeated the then-defending state champion Lions 32-28 in last year’s semifinal at Lee Meador Field.
Both the Eagles and Dawgs enter Friday night’s game after convincing wins in their first district contests.
After spotting Norborne a 14-0 lead, Miami came back with a 50-22 win over the Pirates, while Hardin-Central, also 4-3 for the season, was spanking Heartland 64-6 thanks to the 484 rushing yards the Dawgs piled up.
Thacker knows that the Miami defense will be out to stop the run first.
“They ran a 5-man front against us and this year they’re running more of a 3-4 defense,” he said. “I would think they would change that to a 5 man against us. They know what we run, and we’ve got a few new wrinkles we’re going to throw in.”
The Bulldogs would like to jump out to an early lead in order to put pressure on Eagle quarterback Dylan Fink, who completed 8 of his 19 passes last week for 133 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Thacker said this would help his linebackers Mark and Daniel Carpenter free to focus on running back Ryan Good.
The converted lineman ran the ball 26 times last week for 189 yards and found the end zone three times for the Eagles.
The Bulldog coach also feels his secondary of Patrick King, Scott Spencer and Chris Wilson is better prepared to face an air attack.
“We’ve faced South Holt who had excellent receivers and West Nodaway, who had excellent receivers so we think we can play with these guys,” Thacker added. “We just don’t want to lose focus. We have to go down there and be prepared for them.”