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Big playoff test for Hardin-Central

The Hardin-Central Bulldogs know they will have their hands full Friday night as they travel to St. Joseph to meet Christian in the 8-man quarterfinals. However, they also knew they would have their hands full two years ago when another powerful Lions team battled the Dawgs, and lost 32-28 in the semifinals.
“I know Coach (Mark) Juhl remembers,” Hardin-Central Coach Kirk Thacker said. “He told me he has been licking his chops since then and tried to schedule us a couple of times to get some revenge for that. Those kids that are seniors now were sophomores then so they remember.”
However, Thacker admits this is not the same type of Bulldog team that faced them in that upset victory two years ago. This version of the Bulldogs is made up mostly of freshmen and sophomores as they bring a 6-4 record into the 7 p.m. kickoff.
Thacker also believes that Christian will not be looking past the Bulldogs this time around. He adds the Lions seem to be focused on getting back to the 8-man title game where they lost to Mound City 48-16 in the Dome.
Christian enters the post season with an 8-2 record with victories in its last five games including a 58-0 destruction of Southwest Friday night in a game that was called at the half. The Lions began the season with a 34-0 loss to Mound City in a rematch of the championship game and then battled injuries through the early part of the schedule.
During Christian’s five-game winning streak, the Lions have won by an average score of 56-5. Thacker said his defense will face a different attack than they did in 2007.
“They ran the spread a couple of years ago. This year they’re bigger up front and playing smash-mouth trying to run over everybody,” he said. “They’re good sized and fast and that’s a great combination to have.”
The Bulldogs have saved their best for the last couple of games, after a roller-coaster ride through the first half of the season. Hardin-Central has had its best two games following a 60-6 loss to Miami in the first district game. After that, the Dawgs have posted a 58-26 win over Chilhowee and last Thursday’s 64-18 win over Norborne.
“I don’t know what the exact turnaround was, but our performance against Miami was kind of embarrassing to all of us,” Thacker said. “We knew were a better team than that. Really we had been going downhill since the Stewartsville game where we had played so well. I really think a lot of the older players didn’t want their season to end like that so they kind of stepped up their leadership.”
Thacker knows that Friday’s game will be good experience for his five juniors, four sophomores and half-dozen freshmen.
“This will pay off for us in the future,” Thacker said. “I was glad we made the playoffs rather than to stay home. By getting here, it will pay off for us in the next couple of years and I’m excited about that.”
Thacker also adds that just because his team goes into the game short on playoff experience, he is not just writing the game off.
“They’re excited, but they don’t know what to expect,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get the boys not to be intimidated. We’ve seen them on tape and we’ve got a few things we’re going to try, to see if we can’t disrupt their flow. We’ve got nothing to lose.”
PHOTO: Hardin-Central quarterback Randy Estenbaum runs for yardage in last week’s rivalry game against Norborne. Estenbaum got some blocking help from Mark Carpenter against this Norborne defender. (Photo by JoEllen Black/The Daily News.)

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