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Strong set for home finale against Woodlawn

by Jason Avery | October 20, 2021 at 9:15 p.m.

Just one day past the five-year anniversary of their last meeting when both schools played 11-man football, Strong and Woodlawn meet with first place at stake in the 8-Man South on Friday.

Game time is set for 7 p.m. from Jerry Burson Field.

The Bulldogs (5-0, 3-0) and Bears (4-1, 3-1) last played on Oct. 21, 2016, with the Bears winning 29-18 at home to end Strong’s two-game winning streak in the series.

Strong took a big step in staying atop the league race last week with a 48-30 win over defending eight-man champion Mountain Pine, and another win this week in their final home game of the regular season would continue that trend.

The Bears enter with a two-game winning streak with their lone blemish being a 56-28 setback to Mountain Pine a month ago.

Woodlawn has been dominant in their last two wins, topping Hermitage and Cutter Morning Star by a combined score of 101-14.

“They’re a pretty strong team,” said Strong coach Sirl Wright. “They’re run-oriented, hard-nosed. They’re very fundamentally sound.”

The Bears bring a one-two punch of quarterback Jaxson Martin and running back Parker Rotten that the Bulldogs will have to find a way to slow down.

“They’re kind of a blend of Marvell and Mountain Pine,” Wright said. “They’re more of a run-oriented team. They pass it a little bit, but it’s kind of a like a two-back system with the quarterback and running back that they really try to do a little zone read, not RPO’s (run-pass options), but just zone read action with the quarterback, and he seems pretty sound. They have size and depth. They’re running about 22 or so kids that I’ve seen in person on the sideline.”

After their big win last week, the Bulldogs are continuing to move toward a league title, but Wright said his team must keep its focus on the Bears.

“Every week is a big week,” Wright said. “Each opponent is not a cupcake, so you have really got to focus on each opponent. You can’t look ahead. I pretty much tell the kids, ‘One game at a time, one play at a time. Don’t start looking forward and getting unfocused on the opponent that you have today.’ This week we’ve got Woodlawn, so we’ve got to put all of our focus and attention on Woodlawn and make sure we do our part, and then the rest of it will play out.”

In last week’s win over Mountain Pine, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 24-6 lead at the end of the first quarter en route to victory.

“I was very excited with our performance because everybody focused in practice and did their assignments,” Wright said. “The times that they did score, it was big breaks, runs or catches where someone missed their assignment, and from there, they refocused and I emphasized those points that when they missed their assignments, big things happen.

“In eight-man, there’s closer to two levels of defense you have to stop. You have the defensive front and the secondary. In 11-man, you have three levels, so that’s why it’s much easier to score in eight-man. Overall, I was very pleased with the performance of the kids.

“Our kids put that defensive hat on and held on. When we got to the latter part of the game, we were doing clock management. They scored a few times to get back into it, but our kids refocused and bore back down and held them out for the rest of the game.”

LaQuincy Shelton was 8-of-13 passing for 109 yards with three touchdown passes to Byron Maze while adding 52 yards rushing and a touchdown on 24 carries for Strong.

Treveon Daniels added 123 yards rushing on 24 carries, including a 10-yard touchdown run.

For Wright, achieving balance on offense will serve the Bulldogs well down the stretch.

“I preach balance because the further we get along, we’re going to play teams that are going to be focusing on stopping certain players,” Wright said. “If we’re balanced, it’s hard for them to focus on one guy. When they try to take one of our guys away from there, we can make them play honest defense where they can’t just really line up and double team or triple team one guy. When everybody’s clicking, it just makes everything work so much smoother.”

Maze also scored a touchdown on defense with a 45-yard interception return last week, and Wright is counting on the defense to keep the Bears in check.

“It comes down to tackling,” Wright said. “We’ve got to stop the inside run with tackling and alignments. Offensively, just execute and blocking and I think we’ll be OK.”

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