By Jason Avery
Having played one of the toughest schedules in the state regardless of class, Strong now has two games and two weeks to prepare themselves for their showdown with Parkers Chapel that could determine their postseason fate.
The Bulldogs (0-6) will host Johnson County Westside (1-5) Friday night in the first of their pair of non-conference games.
Game time is set for 7 p.m. from Jerry Burson Field.
Ten years ago, the Bulldogs and Rebels met in the playoffs with Strong cruising to a 54-12 win en route to reaching the state quarterfinals.
Kenneth Dixon, then a freshman in the infancy of his career at Strong, capped the scoring in that postseason win by intercepting a pass and returning it 40 yards for a touchdown.
In the present, the Bulldogs are hoping to gain some confidence after a tough start.
However, they will face a mobile quarterback in junior Tanner Bryant, who has 736 yards rushing and passing combined.
Against Mountainburg last week, Bryant threw for 219 yards and three scores while adding 70 yards rushing.
Two weeks ago against Hector, Bryant rushed for 85 yards and two scores on just nine carries.
“They have a pretty good quarterback,” said Strong coach Sirl Wright. “He has deceptive speed. They’re kind of in the same boat we’re in, but I think we’re getting into the part of the schedule where we can match up with people.”
Wright added that the Bulldogs’ offense will be facing a defensive scheme they usually don’t see.
“They run a 3-4 defense. It seems like it’s more traditional up north,” Wright said. “We’ve faced it maybe once or twice, but with the kind of offense we run, a lot of people try to have at least four down linemen against us.”
Both teams have struggled this season.
The Bulldogs and Rebels have just one win between them with the bulk of the losses having come in rather lopsided fashion.
For Wright, the difficulties of the 2018 season have taken its toll on the Bulldogs.
“We’ve had if not the hardest schedule, especially at the beginning, in 2A,” Wright said. “We’ve been going against several juggernauts. Along with us helping them, morale has been going down because it’s demoralizing when you can’t score and you’re losing games lopsided, so this week could be a bounce back week because we’re playing competition more to our level.”
But while the season has been a tough one for the Bulldogs, Wright said he wants his team to not dwell on past results.
“Their confidence has been shaken, but I keep encouraging them that they’ve got to understand that the first part of the schedule is brutal, and they’ve got to focus on the back end,” Wright said. “We’ve got a good matchup against Parkers Chapel and Bearden that’s going to be coming up. Hopefully, we can turn it on at the end of the season and give it a try.”
Although the games against Parkers Chapel and Bearden will be critical to Strong’s postseason hopes, Wright said he is keeping the Bulldogs focused on the Rebels.
“Teams with very large staffs can do both, but when you have a small staff, you try to go game by game because if you overlook somebody, that’s when bad things happen,” Wright said. “What we need to do is focus on one game at a time. Even though we’ll have Parkers Chapel in the back of our minds, we can’t put them in the forefront.”
If Strong is to notch their first win of the season, Wright said his team must avoid miscues.
“We’ve got to stop turning the ball over,” Wright said. “We can’t let the momentum get away from us. We need to keep pushing.”