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By CHUCK JONES firstname.lastname@example.org
LOUISVILLE — John Hardin senior Caleb Mitchell kept getting text messages last week from former Bulldogs. Each one had a similar message: Win a region championship.
The Bulldogs had a break-through victory Friday night, knocking off the Louisville Doss Dragons, 42-28 to claim the Class 5-A, Region 2 championship. They had came up short twice in previous region championships, losing to Louisville St. Xavier, 21-20 in 2005 and Bowling Green, 27-23 last season.
Mitchell said the win was a championship for all the Bulldogs – past and present. Mitchell said he received text messages from the likes of Cody Mitchell, Matt Denham and Desmond Hayden, all members of last year’s team.
“2005 was a big stepping stone for the program,” Mitchell said. “I’m not going to lie; the 2005 team is probably a better team than us because they were playing with the big boys. Those seniors from last year sent me text messages.
“We’ve developed a family thing here,” he added. “To be the first (to win a region) feels great and it’s big for the program. But those previous teams laid the groundwork for us. We’ve been building a great thing here.”
That is certainly the case. In eight years, John Hardin has built a winning tradition and has established itself on the football map. No area program has won more games (63) or has a better winning percentage (68.5) than John Hardin since the school opened in 2001. After a 3-7 mark in its inaugural season, the program has strung together seven consecutive winning seasons.
Standouts such as Dominic Lewis, Jeff and Jerren Morning, Michael Hayden, David Grant, Alphanso Kahn, Ryan Ray, Alan Dean, D.J. Marcum, William Savoy and Jacheem Gatewood along with last year’s stars and countless others paved the way for this year’s success. Standouts Joel Lopez and Matt Treadway both played on the line for John Hardin and have returned to their alma mater as freshman coaches.
“You never know how things are going to go,” John Hardin coach Mark Brown said. “You want to win. That’s always been the goal. I’m full of these old sayings. This one goes, ‘If you don’t know where you’re aiming, you don’t have a goal.’ We had a goal, but it’s been better than we thought. It’s been a lot of fun.”
After back-to-back first-round playoff exits, John Hardin scored its first two playoff wins – beating Louisville Pleasure Ridge Park and Louisville Male – in 2005 before the narrow loss to St. Xavier. The Bulldogs cut the lead 21-20 on a late touchdown, but a failed 2-point conversion allowed St. Xavier to hold on.
Following a 7-4 season, John Hardin enjoyed another first as the Bulldogs went undefeated during the regular season. The Bulldogs were ranked consistently in The Associated Press Top 10 all season. They led Bowling Green before a late touchdown lifted the Purples to a win.
The Bulldogs are 12-1 this season – matching last year’s record – and they will host the Christian County Colonels (12-1), who are coming off an impressive 16-0 win over Owensboro, on Friday. It was the Colonels’ first region championship in 16 years.
“I’m excited, but I’m already thinking about next week,” Christian County coach Steve Lovelace told the Kentucky New Era.
“(Going on the road) is part of the playoffs,” he added. “John Hardin has been the favorite all year. That’s the team that anyone who won through our area had to go through them.”
John Hardin, though, is in uncharted waters. Christian County has won two Class 4-A state championships although both came before any of this year’s players were born (1982 and ’84).
But the Bulldogs aren’t thinking about the past, they are focused on the present. They are happy still to be alive, removing the monkey of winning a region championship from their back and to have a shot at the school’s first trip to a state championship game.
“This is great,” John Hardin senior Elias Camper said. “This was part of our goal when we began the season. Our goal was ‘Play 15.’ We know we’ll have to play another good team, but we still have a shot at that. That’s all you can ask. That’s what we wanted.”
Chuck Jones can be reached at 505-1759