The Hardin-Central Bulldogs have owned the District 1 title the past two seasons and are not ready to give it up. The Dawgs will put their 4-3 mark on the line as they host Miami-Amoret Friday night at Lee Meador Field. The Eagles enter the 7 p.m. kickoff with a 6-1 record, and have already put two district wins on the board – 38-30 at Chilhowee and last week’s 38-0 win over Norborne.
The Bulldogs were forced to schedule a game with the Braymer junior varsity last Thursday, after Heartland dropped its football program.
The Eagles, like Hardin-Central, lost a lot of last year’s starters through graduation, but Bulldog Coach Kirk Thacker wants his team to play with the attitude of two-time defending district champions.
“We would like to defend our crown,” he said. We’ve talked about this being a whole new season. What’s happened doesn’t matter. We’re very excited and know that road to the playoffs has to go through us for all the teams, so the pressure is really on them. We’re the defending champs and I’ve told the boys we need to play that way.”
Thacker reminded his young team of three years ago, when a veteran Bulldog squad traveled to Miami with an 8-1 mark and lost to the Eagles in overtime to decide the district title.
The Eagles have three shutouts this season and have blanked two of their last three opponents, but the Hardin-Central offense will get a boost with the expected return of quarterback Joe McMichen. McMichen has been out since the first game of the season with an injury and Thacker said this should add another weapon to his ground game and boost the linebacking corps.
“We are very excited to get him back on both offense and defense,” he said. “It should add another aspect to our running game that has been absent. Jake (Harris) has done a fabulous job for us, especially throwing, but our bread and butter has always been the running game.”
It was a combination of a running game and passing game that helped Hardin-Central to a 44-20 win last season at Miami. The Bulldogs were able to run for 280 yards last year despite the Eagles stacking the box.
“We’re going to try and run outside, then go inside, and throw a few passes just to keep them honest,” Thacker said.
Thacker adds that another boost to his offense will be cutting down on the turnovers that have plagued his team the last few weeks. The Bulldogs have turned the ball over 10 times the last three games. Miami has thrived on turnovers in its two district wins. Norborne trailed 14-0 midway through the third period despite giving the ball away three times. Chilhowee drove the ball inside the Eagles’ 20-yard line five times, only to give the ball away on fumbles.
The Miami offense is led by running back Ryan Good, who has over 1,000 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns. The passing attack is guided by quarterback Dylan Fink who has completed 21 of 53 passes for 371 yards and 4 touchdowns.
“Good was a load to bring down last year,” Thacker said. “We do know Fink can throw the ball. He threw a lot against us last year – he didn’t complete a lot, but he does have a pretty good arm, so they can go vertical as well as run.”
Garrett Gutshall, who gave the Bulldogs some problems in last year’s meeting, enters Friday’s game with 19 receptions for 331 yards and 4 touchdowns.