Bulldogs looking to tame Mustangs in quarterfinal battle
For the second time in three playoff games, the Bulldogs host a traditional football power when 1A juggernaut Huntingdon (12-0) invades Frog Bottom Friday night in a Class A quarterfinal game.
The Mustangs have a long, illustrious history that includes a 40-25 all-time playoff record with an 8-4 record in quarterfinal games.
Huntingdon has appeared in the state championship game four times with losses in the 1999 2A title game versus Goodpasture (31-6), 2004 2A title game versus Alcoa (52-41), and the 1A title game versus Gordonsville (21-20) which the Mustangs lost on a failed two-point conversion on the final play of the game.
Huntingdon won its lone state championship in 2003 in the 2A title tilt with a 48-14 rout over David Lipscomb.
Despite sporting a very low student population, the Mustangs have featured several high-profile recruits like current South Carolina tackle Sadarious Hutcherson, who chose the Gamecocks over Arizona State, Louisville, Memphis, MTSU, Nevada, and San Diego State.
In the early 2000's the Mustangs featured the #39 recruit in the country and #1 recruit in the state, Chris Donald, who ultimately chose Tennessee over Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt before finishing his career at Chattanooga.
Another notable Huntingdon alum is Tim Priest, who Vol fans will recognize as the all-time UT interceptions leader (18) and current Vols Radio Network color analyst.
The 2017 version of the Mustangs continues the long tradition of multiple power running backs (360 rushing yards per game) and a sprinkle of passing throughout the offense (69 passing yards per game).
The Bulldogs main focus will be on 1A Mr. Football Finalist Cade Pearson, who has passed for 846 yards and 19 touchdowns to just three interceptions on 44-of-81 attempts and running for 1,161 yards and 16 touchdowns on 143 carries.
Pearson also contributes 65 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, and eight sacks on defense.
"Huntingdon is a very athletic and explosive football team," Bulldog coach Gerard Randolph said. "They will be led by Mr. Football finalist Kade Pearson at quarterback. In a sense they are very similar to our team, in that they have about four or five guys that can run the football. They are a single wing team that likes to get to the edge with their speed, and they can also pass the ball when needed."
"Defensively, they rely on their speed and athletes to make plays for them," Randolph continued.
The Mustang offense will also get big yards from senior Tyrese Melane who has ran 94 times for 1,167 yards and 16 touchdowns while catching 10 balls for 215 yards and three more scores. Melane comes into the game with 1,643 all-purpose yards and two interceptions on defense.
Helping Melane will be sophomore Brandon Lawton (77 carries, 484 yards, 6 TDs) and Elijah Wilkerson (34 carries, 473 yards, 7 TDs).
On the receiving end Dallas Willis (eight receptions, 214 yards, 7 TDs) and Hunter Ensley (11 rec. 204 yards, 5 TDs) are Pearson's top targets.
Ensley (77 tackles, five TFL, four INT) and Willis (75 tackles, six TFL) are also key defensive pieces.
Kelby Pearson, Kade's younger brother, is the defensive leader with 74 tackles, 19 tackles for a loss, and nine sacks.
Devin McClellan chips in 73 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss and six sacks and Austin Avery adds 75 tackles and six tackles for a loss.
The Mustangs are very much like Grace Christian, they aren't a field goal kicking team. If they find themselves inside the 40-yard line on fourth down, they are going for it.
"This is a really good football team coming to Cornersville this Friday night,” Randolph said. “On the other hand we have to play a physical and mistake free football game. On offense we have to continue to be physical up front and take care of the football.”
“Defensively, we have to play assignment football and keep that physical approach up front. We will also have to eliminate there big play capability and do a very good job of tackling."
Kicker Cole Edwards is just 1-for-1 on field goals with a 27-yarder.
The Mustangs will come into the game as a heavy favorite with only one close game all year against 2A quarter finalist Waverly (10-1) and only one opponent scoring over 15 points against Huntingdon.
But being the underdog is just the way the Bulldogs like it.
"Its football, anyone can win on any given night and we just have to be firing on all cylinders on all three phases of the game offense, defense, and special teams," quarterback Eli Woodard said. "The state is talking about this game and when anyone talks bad about this community and the football team everyone rallies together to prove everyone wrong and that's the motivation. Prove everyone wrong. We have made history but there is more to make."
Coach Randolph feels the confidence in his team heading into the first-ever quarterfinal contest for Cornersville.
"We have started the week off with two really good practices," Randolph said. "The guys are looking forward to the opportunity of competing in this atmosphere. We are very fortunate to be where we are, because there are a lot of good teams in the state that are not playing this week, so we are very appreciative of having this opportunity."
The Bulldogs held the high-powered offense of Grace Christian to just 198 yards and 15 points, its lowest output since the regular season game versus Cornersville on September 8th.
The Bulldogs held the Lions to just 4-of-14 third-down attempts for 29 percent.
Coach Randolph will need a similar effort against the Mustangs, who scored 34 or more points in every game of the season including three 60 plus scoring games in a row before last week’s 35-0 win over Moore County.
"Preparation is the key to being confident this week," Randolph added. "We are watching film and constantly trying to replicate everything that Huntingdon does throughout their games.”
“Our guys are enjoying the winning and being able to advance each week, and I know that's the mentality that we will have this week. This team is hungry for more and I know we will come out and give it everything that we have."
The Bulldogs beat Moore County by a score of 42-0 but were up by the same score at halftime before a running clock in the second half limited the Bulldogs to just one possession for the rest of the game.
And like the previous two games, the Bulldogs have the built in advantage of playing at home in front of a rabid, hometown, sellout crowd.
"Home field is huge at this point of the season," Randolph emphasized. "Our home crowd has been so awesome this year, and has truly been that 12th man for our football team this year.”
“The guys really enjoy playing in front of their families and Bulldog supporters. We know it will be electric this Friday night and we expect a packed house for this monumental game."
Look for the Bulldogs to make history with a huge win over the Mustangs.