So far, Strong’s start as an eight-man football team has been a great success.
The Bulldogs are 2-0 for the first time since 2017 and on Friday night, Strong will take aim at its first 3-0 start since 2010 when they travel to Marvell for an 8-Man South contest.
Game time is set for 7 p.m.
Strong (2-0, 1-0) topped Hermitage for its lone league win before winning a defensive struggle over Episcopal Collegiate last week.
The Mustangs (1-2, 0-2) started the season with league losses to Woodlawn and Mountain Pine before rebounding to top Rose Bud 28-16 in non-conference play to register their first win.
“They’ve got size and they’ve got athletes,” Strong coach Sirl Wright said of the Mustangs. “The positives are they have size, strength and numbers compared to us, but the negatives are it seems like they’re not fine-tuned as far as getting reps. The kids kind of shift around to different positions, so I may be at cornerback for one play and the next play, I may be a defensive tackle. That’s how they set up.”
Wright said that shifting does it make it tough to prepare for, but it also creates mismatches that can be exploited.
“Sometimes it does, but it’s also a mismatch for them in certain ways because if they put a small guy down on the line, and we’ve got our No. 1 guy on the line, we know we can get a yard or three yards at that hole,” Wright said. “It kind of helps with scheme, but it’s also unpredictable.
“You can’t call it at will. If they have a linebacker at cornerback, then we have to worry more about passing the ball than running the ball at them because he’s not as good as a pass-coverage guy, but he’s a great tackler.
“You’ve got to be on your toes scheme-wise. It makes it more difficult to game plan. They give you a multiple look at everything.”
Friday marks Strong’s first test on the road, and Wright said his team will be ready for it.
“It’s not going to be that big of a disadvantage for us because in the last few years, we’ve had more away games than home games typically because we had to find games due to our conference opponents dropping out,” Wright said.
“We had to go find games and we would be at the mercy of other teams and going to play at other places. We’re used to being on the road, so that’s an advantage for having experience in that department.”
Last week, Strong downed Episcopal Collegiate 14-6 with Byron Maze recovering a blocked punt for a touchdown and LaQuincy Shelton scoring on a 30-yard run with a successful 2-point conversion in the win. Treveon Daniels added 37 yards rushing for the Bulldogs.
Maze’s touchdown came on the heels of the Bulldogs being turned away at the doorstep of the end zone, but the defense was able to keep the Wildcats pinned, forcing a punt from the end zone.
“I feel that we’re growing,” Wright said. “Each game we get, we’re building on blocks and growing with resiliency. Typically in the past, if a team scored on us, we would drop our heads, then they would get the momentum and just run away with it.
“This time, they scored on us, but we kept our heads up and we kept playing and battled. We played hard in all facets of the game.
“Offensively, we scored first and I talked to the kids about needing to score on that first drive because after that with the consistent rain, the field was going to be soaked. It wasn’t going to be geared toward skill, but to balance and keeping your feet.”
With the Bulldogs off to a good start, the community is embracing the new format.
“I really think they’re positive about it,” Wright said. “Everybody was kind of like, ‘Eight-man, how does that go?’ They had a whole bunch of questions, but once they saw it, it was still football. They may be a little bit further way from the stands, but when it comes down to it, you still have a 100 yards to go.
“The field is a little bit tighter, but there’s still guys on the field running and trying to make tackles or make blocks, catching the ball or running the ball. It’s still the same. It’s generating a positive buzz around the community.”
In addition to his big play on special teams, Maze had a sack and forced a fumble in the win.
“He made a spectacular play,” Wright said of Maze’s touchdown on special teams.
“The ball rolled perfectly for him. He got up and dove on it before it went out of bounds. In all facets of the game, he came to play.”
If Strong is to start 3-0 for the first time since 2010, Wright said the defense must play well.
“Tackling. That’s the big deal,” Wright said. “They do a lot of running the ball, but when they do pass it, they have an athletic quarterback. They’ve got a quarterback by committee, but when they do pass it, he scrambles a lot, so open-field tackling and just general tackling.
“If we just can tackle and not let them score, I think we’re savvy enough to build momentum on offense to score. We’ve got to make sure we come to play defense.”