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Both, the Hardin-Central Bulldogs and Stewartsville Cardinals enter their 8-man quarterfinal meeting Saturday at Lee Meador Field with a few concerns.
The 7-3 Bulldogs have some injury worries, as they get ready for the 1:30 p.m. kickoff against a team that has created some problems for them the past two years. Meanwhile, Stewartsville could be a bit rusty after not being on the field since Oct. 17 when they rolled Southwest of Ludlow 54-12. The Cardinals had a scheduled off week following that win, and their final game of the year one week later was wiped away when Union Star canceled the rest of their games.
The Bulldogs are down to nine players and will not have their offensive and defensive line anchor Lukas Milligan, who was lost for the season with an ACL injury. Fullback Randy Estenbaum suffered another concussion early last week and will not be available Saturday.
Both injuries occurred early enough in last week’s 62-8 win over Norborne that Bulldog Coach Kirk Thacker had time to experiment with his new lineup.
“They had a little trouble in the first half, but once we got into halftime and could show them what to do on the board, they kind of came around,” Thacker said. “They did a lot of talking in the huddle and helped each other out on who to block, so it was a team effort between the coaches and the players. We’re hoping we can do it again Saturday.”
The second half has always seemed to create problems for the Bulldogs when facing Stewartsville. Two years ago, the Dawgs built a big lead after two periods, but had to hold off a second-half charge by the Cardinals. Once again this year, Hardin-Central controlled the first half as the Bulldogs scored the first 18 points of the game, only to have Stewartsville comeback for a 40-32 win in September.
“They don’t go away,” Thacker said. “We seem to come out hard against them, but in the second half they come out – I don’t know what kind of speech coach (Kevin) Heyde gives them or changes they made, but they’ve always played us well.”
Thacker adds that the Cardinal attack is a mirror image of his team in that both like to keep the ball on the ground and throw very occasionally. Quarterback Dakota Gill has attempted just over 40 passes, which is just a few less than Bulldog signal caller Patrick King has attempted. Gill has thrown for almost 400 yards.
Duke Jacobs leads the ground attack for Stewartsville with over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns, but was injured against Southwest. However, he has had a chance to heal the past few weeks and should be ready for Saturday. Gill scored 3 touchdowns while Jacobs ran for 143 yards on 31 carries in the first meeting against Hardin-Central.
The Cardinals did line up in the spread formation early in the first game and ran the ball. Thacker expects a few new wrinkles on Saturday.
“We know they’ve been experimenting all season with the spread,” he said. “A lot of their passing has come when they get down in the red zone. They’ve hit a lot of touchdowns on short passes, but primarily, they’re a run team.”
Defensively, Thacker said the strength of the Cardinals is up front.
“They’ve got a nose guard, who also plays fullback. He is a tough kid who gave us some trouble last time,” he explained. “They’ve got two defensive ends who are pretty tough. If we can get past them we should have some success.”
He adds that Stewartsville will run anything from a three-man to four-man front, and could even load up as many as five along the front line in order to slow the Hardin-Central ground game.