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By Russ Green-Sports Editor
The first time the Hardin-Central Bulldogs and Northwest-Hughesville Mustangs met, it was the Mustangs spoiling Homecoming festivities at Lee Meador Field by forcing several Hardin-Central miscues. Friday night in the District 4 semifinals, it was the Bulldogs forcing turnovers and ruining the Mustangs’ season on their home field as Hardin-Central rolled to a 58-14 victory.
The Bulldogs, now 8-3, advanced to Friday night’s district championship game at Southwest-Livingston by harassing Mustang quarterback Cortlen Austin. In the first meeting, a 54-26 Northwest victory, Austin accounted for seven touchdowns and almost 400 yards of total offense. This time the Dawgs applied lots of pressure on the junior quarterback in a last-minute decision by Hardin-Central Coach Kirk Thacker.
“Initially we were just going to rush two and play back on defense,” he said. “That didn’t look good to me before the game started so I thought maybe we should change it. That was a game-time decision we decided to run the four back there. First time we didn’t get to him, this time we did and made him a little uncomfortable.”
The Bulldog defense forced Austin into completing only three of 17 passes and a pair of interceptions before forcing him out of the game completely. Austin, who missed one play in the first half, appeared to suffer a concussion late in the second quarter and he did not re-enter the game in the second half.
The Bulldogs also lost Terry Barron to a concussion late in the second period.
Once the Bulldogs took control of the game, they turned the offense over to a ground game that chewed up 466 yards on 81 plays. Hank Bowers led the ground troops with 255 yards on 39 carries, with Rhyler Estenbaum adding 136 more on 20 carries.
“We knew our line was big enough and strong enough and we could wear them out and that’s exactly what happened,” Thacker said. “All we wanted was about three or four yards a carry and knew Rhyler and Hank could handle it and let them grind it out.”