After a 40-0 loss at Dacula last week where not much at all went right for Winder-Barrow, the Bulldoggs find themselves in a hole at 1-4 and, more importantly, 0-2 in GHSA Region 8-AAAAAA.
It’s not an insurmountable hurdle to clear, but coach Ed Dudley and his team are well aware that they need to string together a winning streak in order to have a chance at returning to the postseason.
“We have to find a way to move the football, make some first downs and score some points,” said Dudley, whose Bulldoggs managed only 120 yards Friday, Oct. 16, against a stingy Dacula defense as the eighth-ranked Falcons (3-2, 2-0 region) built a commanding 31-0 halftime lead and rolled from there. “We’ve done some good things offensively at different times during the season, but we’ve got to be more consistent and quit shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Now, the Bulldoggs will look to get back on track Friday, Oct. 23, when they host Shiloh in a key region battle against a team that Dudley says has a “very aggressive, opportunistic defense.”
The Generals (3-2, 1-0), who are coming off a 41-34 win over Central Gwinnett last week in their region opener, have lived up to Dudley’s billing through the first half of the season, forcing 14 turnovers compared to only three giveaways. And while they have come away with 10 interceptions — with senior strong safety Marquis Hepburn’s three leading the way — Bulldogg quarterbacks have been picked off seven times through the first five games.
Shiloh also sports a pair of stout linebackers in senior Ahmad Edwards (50 tackles, six tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception) and junior Isaac Prince (45 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks), while senior defensive end LaDanian Smith has also notched a pair of sacks.
“They’re real blitz-heavy. They run a 3-5-3 defense and like to bring the pressure,” Dudley said of the Generals who have 10 sacks as a team. “We’re going to have to get the run game going to try to keep them honest on that end.”
Friday will also mark the first-career varsity start for Winder-Barrow sophomore quarterback Conyer Smith, who entered last week’s game at Dacula after Trevor Summerfield exited with a bruised shoulder that will keep him out against the Generals. Smith put in solid work, Dudley said, in his first extensive varsity action, going 8-of-15 for 65 yards and an interception.
“He played well in the second half,” Dudley said of Smith, a 6-foot-6, 205-pound, pro-style quarterback. “We’re not afraid to put the ball in his hands. He has a lot of potential and promise and he was very calm the other night in some tough situations.”
On the other end, the Bulldoggs’ defense will go up against a Shiloh offense that is starting to come to life and has averaged 38 points a game the last two weeks after scoring just 20 points over its first three outings. Junior Sterling Knowles has taken the majority of snaps at quarterback and has thrown for 368 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Juniors Christion Barker (23 carries, 253 yards, five touchdowns) and Robert Shumake (41 carries, 144 yards) form a solid running back tandem.
“They’ve got an explosive outside running game that has helped them score some points lately,” Dudley said. “Both those guys are capable of breaking off long runs, and they do a good job of using them in different ways. “We’ve got to make sure we’re doing a good job on defense of gang tackling and getting them on the ground early.”
Kickoff at W. Clair Harris Stadium on Friday is set for 7:30 p.m.
KNIGHTS PREPARE FOR EIGHT-DAY, THREE-GAME GRIND
By the time Friday rolls around, Bethlehem Christian Academy will not have played a game in 21 days, but the Knights will be making up for it as they start a three-game stretch over the next eight days when they host Loganville Christian Academy at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The Knights (1-3) were supposed to travel to Notre Dame Academy in Duluth last week, but the Irish Wolfhounds, already limited in numbers, suffered a rash of injuries that further depleted their roster and made it not feasible to play the game, BCA coach Bruce Lane said. That game will now be made up Tuesday, Oct. 27, in Duluth at 4 p.m., three days before the Knights play another game Oct. 30 against Thomas Jefferson Academy in Louisville.
“I think the biggest key for us has been to try to maintain our focus with the extended period of time off,” said Lane, whose Knights were already coming off a bye week when the game against Notre Dame was postponed last Thursday, Oct. 15. “It’s always good for coaches to have extra time to prepare, but that’s not always the case for players. I was glad we got into a good, solid routine (Monday), and I thought the kids responded really well. We’ve used this down time to focus on our fundamentals and especially tackling, which is an area we’ve struggled in a little bit.
“We’re focusing this week solely on Loganville Christian and, since we already had the Notre Dame game plan ready to go, Monday will be a review day. Wednesday and Thursday of next week will be pretty lights days in terms of contact in practice, and it’ll be more a matter of mental preparation going into the Thomas Jefferson game. It’ll be a good challenge and hopefully a fun experience for our guys. And hopefully some of our younger guys will get some time to play, too.”
But first thing’s first, the Knights are preparing to host the school that has been their traditional rival, even though the Lions (1-4) made the jump from GISA to GHSA this season.
“They’re a very solid, well-coached, fundamentally sound team that’s played a good schedule, experienced some injuries along the way and had sort of a revolving door at certain positions,” Lane said of LCA, which has dropped its last four games. “I would compare them a little bit to the Towns County team we lost to (28-14) earlier in the year. They like to spread you out and throw it around. They’re really quick defensively and run to the ball. They’ve got big defensive linemen, so we need to do a good job at the point of attack to be able to run the ball. And I feel like we’ve progressed in that area each week.
“From the fans’ perspective, I’m sure this one is no different and it’ll be an exciting game. The rivalry is very much alive.”