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PREP FOOTBALL: Bulldogs take to the road for state quarterfinals (11/16)

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By Chuck Jones

cjones@thenewsenterprise.com

In the first two rounds of the Class 5-A playoffs, the John Hardin Bulldogs haven’t had to leave the friendly confines of Bulldog Stadium.

But that changes this Friday as the Bulldogs travel to play the Anderson County Bearcats at Hollie Warford Jr. Stadium in Lawrenceburg. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.

“It’s a lot different,” John Hardin senior defensive end Matt Linton said. “It’s different not having our fans right behind us. It’s different because our student section, which pumps us up, isn’t in the end zone. But we have to focus like it’s a home game. Sure, you’d like to be at home. But we have to go in with the same mindset.”

The Bulldogs (12-0) haven’t had to go on the road much during the playoffs in the last six years. This will be only their fourth road game during that span.

“It’s a totally different environment,” John Hardin senior halfback Landon Savoy said. “It’s going to be a hostile environment because people are going to be against us. It’s a big disadvantage, but you have to treat it the same as any other game.”

It’s not like John Hardin hasn’t been successful on the road in the past. After losing back-to-back road playoff games in 2003 and ’04, the Bulldogs have won three consecutive playoff games on the road. They beat Oldham County and Louisville Doss in 2008 and Bowling Green last season.

“It gave us a lot of confidence,” Linton said of the win at Bowling Green. “Not many people expected us to be able to go on the road and beat Bowling Green. That was big for our confidence.”

John Hardin coach Mark Brown said the key to winning on the road is preparation, which starts long before the team boards the buses.

“We keep everything the same,” Brown said. “We are not going to change anything. The difference is you can’t take everything with you. You worry that someone’s going to forget a helmet or something.

“The coaches always make fun of me, but I plan it to where we get there early,” he added. “I plan it so we’re not rushed. I hate feeling rushed. You want to get there and have plenty of time to get ready.”

Brown doesn’t view playing on the road in football the same as other sports.

“In ’08, our backs were against the wall,” Brown said. “We didn’t have a choice but to play on the road. Last year was a big step for us. But whether you’re playing at home or on the road, I don’t see it as much as an advantage like basketball. You don’t have to get used to shooting or anything like that. Football fields are the same for the most part. It’s not a big obstacle.”

The Bearcats (9-3) are 6-1 at home this season, including playoff wins over Louisville Waggener and Bullitt Central – two teams John Hardin beat in the regular season. Their only loss was a 45-42 decision to Henry County on Sept. 17.

Anderson County hasn’t been in the quarterfinals in the last 20 years, while this is the fifth time in the last six years John Hardin has played for a region championship. Despite the Bearcats’ lack of playoff experience, the Bulldogs realize the challenge at hand.

“We’ve got to execute and everyone has to do their jobs,” Linton said. “I feel like I say it every week, but it’s the truth. We can’t make mistakes, especially at this time of year. They’re a really good team. We have to keep the same mindset we’ve had all year.”

Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759