By Jason Avery
With Strong off to an 0-2 start, first-year coach Sirl Wright is exercising patience with his football team.
After falling to Hamburg and Lake Village, Strong will try for its first win of the season when they host Rison tonight.
Game time is set for 7 p.m. from Jerry Burson Field.
The Bulldogs (0-2) and Wildcats (2-0) certainly aren’t strangers to one another, as the schools were conference rivals for the past six seasons before Rison moved back up to 3A.
Tonight’s game also marks the 14th meeting between the schools since 2001. Rison has won the last six contests in the series, although half of those wins have been by 13 points or fewer.
The Bulldogs are playing the second game of a three-game homestand with Junction City next up to start league play, and Wright made it a point to his team to not focus on their record and work towards improving with league play set to begin next week.
“I tell them that this is more so like preseason and not to get wrapped up in their record at the beginning of the season,” Wright said. “It’s hard to bounce back after a loss, but you’ve got that edge with each team to motivate them to continue to push forward, especially if you start the season 0-2. I’m telling them to look at the bigger picture and that these are three games that we can find out who we are and what we measure up to.
“All three opponents are in bigger divisions than we are, and it’s only making us better in the long run to play up. The fortunate thing is we haven’t gained any injuries or anything like that. We just have to make sure that we have a sound mind, keep our confidence level up and keep thinking about execution over anything else. I believe that if we can execute, we can play with anybody that we line up against.”
The Wildcats, winners over Fordyce and Brinkley by a combined score of 75-12, are well-known for their physicality, and Wright said that aspect will benefit his team with conference play beginning next week.
“They are a familiar foe and they like to ground and pound,” Wright said. “I’ve been preaching being physical, and I appreciate the challenge because I want my team to be as physical as well, so if we can meet their physicality, I think we’ll have a great, competitive game from that standpoint. I believe in learning from each foe that you have, and I think they’re a great opponent in the third week to get that physical toughness going into conference.”
After struggling to run the ball against Hamburg in their opener, the Bulldogs got nearly 200 yards rushing combined from Derrion Davis and LeAndrew Greer against Lake Village, but costly mistakes came back to haunt Strong in the loss to the Beavers.
“We had a good base of what we were trying to do against Lake Village,” Wright said. “Unfortunately, the turnover bug caught us or there would be a timely mishap that would set us back. That’s what I was emphasizing to them about execution, keeping their focus and understanding what’s asked of them to do and execute it to the best of their ability. That’s all I can ask.”
Strong’s lone points last week came from its defense, as Greer returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown.
“They tried to throw a slant, and LeAndrew jumped the route,” Wright said.
“We held their passing attack down. They got one big play on a third-and-long, but from there, we slowed them down on pretty much everything. From there, I think they backed off on their passing attack once the rain came.”
If the Bulldogs are to win their first game of the season, Wright said his team must avoid the miscues that have plagued them early on.
“Number one is not turn the ball over,” Wright said. “I feel that if we can win the turnover battle, I think we’ll be in great shape. I think that’s what has been really haunting us the first two weeks. We had a lot of mishaps against Hamburg, and this past week, we had fewer, so I think we’re growing as a team. We’re just getting out of the starting blocks, but I think we’re gaining momentum as we go.”