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The John Hardin Bulldogs have shown so much improvement since their season-opening 44-27 victory over Lexington Henry Clay, which put up more than 350 yards including 245 on the ground.
John Hardin’s defense was a work in progress early in the season, and the Bulldogs steadily improved from game to game. In the playoffs, they have turned it up a notch, looking like a typical John Hardin defense.
“We’re playing much better,” said John Hardin junior Matt Elam. “We didn’t play that well early in the season, but we’ve come together. We’re playing like we should have at the beginning.”
The Bulldogs, who are allowing 10.6 points and 191.4 yards per game, haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since the second game. No quarterback has thrown for more than 200 yards against them.
John Hardin, though, will get its toughest test tonight when it hosts the Bowling Green Purples at 7:30 in the Class 5-A state semifinals at Bulldog Stadium.
The Purples roll into Radcliff with their high-powered offense, which is averaging 41.3 points and 342.1 yards per game. They have scored more than 30 points in 11 of their 13 games, including five straight.
“They are really good,” said John Hardin senior Domonick Brown. “They give you a lot of different looks. Their quarterback gets the ball and gets it to the receivers. He gets rid of the ball fast. It’s really important that we play smart and control the line of scrimmage.”
Bowling Green coach Kevin Wallace said this year’s offense is much different than in previous seasons.
“We’re a different type of team,” Wallace said. “Last year we had three senior running backs. We had more of a power running game. This year we have very good athletes and we’re better throwing the ball. It’s a different type of offense to utilize our skill set.”
Junior Devin Hayes has completed 151-of-241 passes for 2,438 yards and 37 touchdowns. He has been intercepted only eight times.
Junior Nacarius Fant has been a big-time playmaker for the Purples. He has 63 catches for 1,151 yards and 17 touchdowns. Junior running back Blake Pillow has 26 receptions for 342 yards and five scores, while senior wideout Spencer Renfro has made 21 grabs for 417 yards and eight scores.
“They’ve got a great playmaker in Fant, but they’re not limited to one player,” said John Hardin coach Mark Brown. “They have another just as fast as him. If they had just one guy, there are some things you could do. They are one of these spread teams that can run it or throw it equally well. They’re not a one-trick pony.
“They have a lot of good athletes and they do a really good job,” he added. “We hope to slow them down. We’re not going to stop them. What we have to stay away from is the big play.”
Junior Blue Tisdale leads the running game with 942 yards and 17 touchdowns. Pillow has rushed for 471 yards and eight scores, while Danny Dewalt has 338 yards and four touchdowns.
“It’s like facing another J’town (Jeffersontown), but they have faster athletes,” said John Hardin senior Jalen Fleming. “They are much better than J’town with better athletes. We’re going to have to play aggressive and get people to the ball.”
While the Purples have been effective running the ball, the passing game is more concerning for the Bulldogs.
“They pass the ball really well,” said John Hardin senior Garrett Ray. “They have fast receivers and a great quarterback. They do a pretty good job of running routes and he gets them the ball.”
To disrupt the passing game, John Hardin will use a variety of blitzes, bringing linebackers and sometimes defensive backs. Wallace, who said the Bulldogs’ strength is their defense, hopes the Purples can hurt John Hardin when it does blitz.
“The same thing is true about us,” Wallace said. “We’re both going to bring people. We both rely on pressure. We need to be able to take advantage of it. I’m sure they’re thinking the same. There are certain things you try to take away.”
Chuck Jonescan be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org