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When the Central Hardin Bruins spent a Saturday in late September driving 3 hours to Indianapolis to rout Marshall, 46-8, they knew they were getting much more than just a win.
Coach Mark Perry accepted the invitation to play in Indianapolis in order to prepare his team for the long trip he knew his team would eventually encounter.
Heading into Friday’s game at McCracken County, the road trip is now an experience they can lean on.
The eighth-ranked Bruins (10-1) will travel another 3 hours to face the No. 7 Mustangs (9-2) in the second round of the Class 6-A playoffs, and they’re glad they are familiar with the routine: drive for 2 hours, stop at a high school for a walkthrough, eat and finish the last leg of the drive.
“It helps us a lot because we’re going to be used to not doing our normal walkthrough here at the school and be doing it another school that we’re not used to,” Central Hardin sophomore linebacker Seth Bryan said. “We’ll be used to the different environment, a long road trip and a long bus ride.”
Unlike the trip to Indianapolis, however, the bus ride won’t be the only challenge.
The Mustangs dropped their first two games of the season – by a combined two points against Paducah Tilghman and Mayfield – but have since rattled off nine straight wins, all by double digits. McCracken County blew out Boone County, 55-10 in the first round.
McCracken County features an explosive offense which averages 450.5 yards per game. Senior running back Jordan Troutman, who ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns last week, has 1,602 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns this season. Speedy sophomore quarterback Zyaire Hughes has thrown for 2,352 yards and 23 touchdowns and has also run for 15 touchdowns.
“They’re a normal spread team like our offense, so we’re kind of used to that,” Bryan said. “They’re more zone, and we have to get used that. We’re just working on the zone during practice.”
Another wrinkle is the game will be played on the turf at Marquette Stadium, so the Bruins practiced Tuesday on the turf at the Elizabethtown Athletic Complex.
“We talk about handling new things, but we were able to get that out of the way on Tuesday,” said Perry, whose team has yet to play on turf this season. “It was really a nice gesture (by Elizabethtown). We were real pleased to be able to use that.”
Central Hardin is attempting to be the third team in school history to make it to the third round of the playoffs and the first since 1997. Venturing into unchartered territory is nothing new this season for the Bruins, who had their best regular season at 9-1 and are the first 10-win team since the school opened in 1990.
The Bruins left little to chance in a 48-0 win against Daviess County (6-5) in the first round, racing to a 35-0 first-quarter lead and forcing a running clock less than 3 minutes into the second quarter.
Central Hardin held Daviess County to 103 yards, the second fewest the Bruins have allowed this season. They had a season-low 238 yards of offense thanks to the defense setting up excellent field position throughout the first half.
“I really liked our approach last Friday night,” Perry said. “It was probably our best game to date, so it’s not far out of the kids’ memory of how to prepare, how to approach it mentally and approach it physically.”
One key for the Bruins could be their ability to stretch the field to keep teams honest when sophomore running back Xavier Arnette runs the ball and when junior quarterback Koree Krupinski hits junior wideouts Zach Helton and Stephen Lindsey on screen passes. Last week, Krupinski hit senior Kenneth Browning and junior Tyler Long on deep balls. Against Greenwood two weeks ago, Krupinski connected with Browning and sophomore wideout Justin Rouse on long touchdown passes.
“It’s just momentum,” Browning said. “You get a big play like that, you get all the momentum and keep riding that. Last week we got up big and the other team stayed down.
“If we have a passing game, then (Xavier) is going to run all over them,” he added. “When they come up to stop him, we’re just going to throw right over them.”
The Bruins will surely face more resistance than they did against Daviess County, but their mindset won’t change.
“We treat everyone the same: respect all, fear none,” Bryan said. “You have to go in there thinking they’re the best team you’ve ever played. You have to play your heart out every snap. Obviously they’re real good, or they wouldn’t be here with us.”
Ryan O’Gara can be reached at 270-505-1754 or firstname.lastname@example.org.