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There’s a lot more on the line Thursday night than just bragging rights between long-time rivals Hardin-Central and the Pirates when they collide in Norborne. The winner gets second place in District 1, and a spot in the 8-man playoffs next Friday night. The loser will go home and put away the pads until next August.
“That adds a little to it,” Bulldog Coach Kirk Thacker said. “We’ve got a whole lot to play for. In years past we’ve made the playoffs and it’s just been a rivalry game for us, and they haven’t really had a whole lot to play for, but this year they are right in the thick of things. We want to knock them out and they want to knock us out, so I don’t think you could ask for a better set up for a game.”
The 5-4 Bulldogs are looking to make the postseason for the third year in a row, while Norborne has not made the 8-man playoffs in its short history of playing in that division. The last postseason game played by Norborne was the 1996 Class 1A sectionals where the Pirates fell to eventual state runner-up Santa Fe 35-0.
The 3-3 Pirates, coached by former Hardin-Central assistant David Probasco, have come a long way this season since having to forfeit two of their first three games due to lack of numbers.
After starting quarterback Walter Walker was lost for the season with a knee injury, freshman Tyler McNelly has stepped in and performed very well with over 400 yards passing and 9 touchdowns.
“I saw some tape on him and he’s come a long way from the first couple of games,” Thacker said. “He’s pretty quick and has a nice arm on him, so they’re set at quarterback for a few years.”
McNelly’s favorite target the past few weeks has been Derik McGinnis, who has 3 touchdown receptions, while J.J. Storey, a tough and powerful runner according to Thacker, has been the main force on the ground with over 500 yards and 8 rushing touchdowns.
“It’s two teams that are pretty evenly matched,” Thacker said. “They’ve got a lot of their players back from last season and they have that extra year of experience. I think they’re a lot better than what most people think. They’re a dangerous running team and they can also throw pretty well too.”
The Bulldog offense got a boost last week with Randy Estenbaum moving from fullback to under center. The sophomore responded with 331 yards of total offense (102 rushing and 229 passing) and 8 touchdowns (3 rushing and 5 passing).
“We got a big boost with having Randy move to quarterback,” Thacker said. “I’m not looking for that out of him again, but Chilhowee put eight up front most of the time to stop our run, so we had some success throwing a lot of hitches and screens for big yardage. Then we’d hit (Mark) Carpenter in the middle.”
The 24 pass attempts was the most by a Bulldog quarterback in quite a few years, with Carpenter grabbing 6 of those passes for 113 yards and 3 touchdowns, and Chris Wilson catching 8 for 95 yards and a touchdown.
The Bulldogs have won the last two meetings with Norborne by scores of 58-0 and 62-8.