Doddridge not backing down from opponents
WEST UNION — A two-year playoff drought was enough for the 2017 Doddridge County football team.
Having not appeared in the postseason since losing to Buffalo 20-0 in 2014, Bulldog head coach Bobby Burnside’s squad ripped off eight straight wins after a 0-2 start and grabbed the No. 12 slot in Class A.
“I am very proud of the young men on the team and on the coaching staff,” said Burnside. “We had our backs against the wall on the verge of not just missing the playoffs, but potentially having a losing season. They (the players) could have very easily hung it up, but they worked hard. They worked to improve each day and week. They fought hard and got the first win, then the second, and now we have won eight-in-a-row. I am really proud of them.”
Building up such momentum over a long victory streak should serve the green and gold well as their opponent in the opening round is none other than the defending state champions St. Marys.
Game time is 1:30 p.m. Saturday inside the Blue Devils’ Bill Hanlin Stadium.
Doddridge County chose the time slot for two specific reasons. The first being they would have an extra day to prepare and the second is because some of the school’s biggest playoff wins have come on Saturday afternoon.
There is no question this certainly would qualify as another big playoff triumph if the Bulldogs could upset the reigning champs. Yet, Burnside knows hard work is key to moving on to the second round.
“What we are going to see on Saturday is a completely different level and caliber of football,” said Burnside, who is trying to get Doddridge County back to the state title game for the first time since 1978. “We are going to have to give 110 percent effort on every play. We have to bring a ‘fight-to-the-end’ attitude and an ‘us-against-the-world’ mentality.”
A strong defense, allowing just 22 points over its last eight outings, faces arguably the most talented team the unit has seen since South Harrison in Week 1.
St. Marys rolled to an 8-1 regular season largely untouched outside of a 43-15 loss to the same South Harrison where the team was dealing with injuries. The average margin of victory for the Blue Devils was 35 points.
Powerful runners in Jaiden Smith, Matt Eichhorn and Dylan Gray lead a Blue Devil offensive attack coming off a 392-yard rushing effort on just 35 carries in a 55-14 win over Tyler Consolidated last week. A powerful front five led by four seniors paves the way out of the backfield.
Smith eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on the ground after running seven times for 170 yards and scoring twice against the Silver Knights. As impressive as those stats are to read, he compiled them over just five games as he missed time with an ankle injury. On the season, Smith has 14 ground scores, Eichhorn has nine and Gray scored 11.
“They run the ball well but not just Smith, Eichhorn is explosive and Gray too,” said Burnside. “All three of those players are very big playmakers, not to mention the quarterback. They play disciplined football, have the ability to score a lot of points, and have the defense to shut you down … They are good.”
Despite the challenge, the Bulldogs aren’t changing approaches and refuse to back down.
“We go out on the field and do what has brought us here,” said Burnside. “You don’t change your identity – you are who you are. We will try and execute our plays and some of that is adjustment and taking what you see when they dive it to you. We prepare for this team like any other team.”
“When we go on the field we are going to give it everything we have,” he added. “All I expect from our team is everything that is inside of them on every play. Does that mean we will shut down Smith? Absolutely not. That kid is one of the states best. We have to give everything on every play to do that and before the injuries and everything he was talked about for the Kennedy (Award).
“It is an exciting time to get to play the defending champion. Only 16 teams make it and we are one of them. It just happened we draw the team when they are healthy. We will give it our best effort I promise you that.”