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Mention two words to the John Hardin Bulldogs and there are two reactions. Either they cringe at the very mention of those words or they immediately see red with thoughts of last year’s failure swirling in the back of their minds.
If you haven’t figured it out, those two words are “Bowling Green.”
“Say the words ‘Bowling Green’ and you blood just starts boiling,” John Hardin senior Jalen Fleming said. “This is our biggest game. This is our state title.”
John Hardin and Bowling Green – a pair of 13-0 teams – meet tonight at Bulldog Stadium in a Class 5-A semifinal. This is the same stage as last season where the Purples just destroyed the Bulldogs, 62-20.
To say the Bulldogs have bad memories of that game is an understatement. It was Murphy’s Law. If it could go wrong, it did in last year’s biggest playoff disappointment.
The teams were on a collision course last season. It was the matchup everyone wanted to see and talked about the entire the season. Instead of living up to the hype, the Purples used John Hardin’s miscues to roll to a 34-0 lead in the first quarter on their way to the lopsided victory.
This season there hasn’t been as much talk leading up to this game. Maybe many assume a similar fate awaits the Bulldogs. Maybe after last year’s debacle, many don’t have faith in John Hardin to win on a big stage.
The Bulldogs don’t seem to be bothered about the lack of attention. They prefer to focus on this game and not what happened in the past. The Bulldogs understand losing the way they did was embarrassing, but they can’t do anything about last year.
“I was so sick to my stomach after that game,” said John Hardin senior Domonick Brown. “For a long time I couldn’t get over it. This is a new year. It’s going to be so intense. We’re working so hard and we need to come out with the right mindset. We’re not going to get beat like that again.”
John Hardin doesn’t like losing, but the Bulldogs never want to experience what they went through last year. That was humiliating and humbling for a proud program. John Hardin, though, believes it can learn from last season.
“We feel like we can use that (loss) this year,” said John Hardin junior Matt Elam. “That wasn’t John Hardin football. There are a lot of things we didn’t do right. We have that in the backs of our minds.”
While the game lacks the buildup of last season, that doesn’t necessarily mean this isn’t still a budding rivalry. The teams seem to bring out the best in one another. Throw out last season’s game and the two previous playoff meetings were decided by a touchdown.
Bowling Green coach Kevin Wallace realizes a repeat of last year’s domination probably isn’t likely. He’s also concerned after his team’s emotional 35-21 victory over rival Warren Central.
“Here’s the thing: For the second straight year we play Warren Central in the region final,” Wallace said. “That’s really, really an emotional game. There was a whole lot of emotion spent and it’s a real physical game. It would be the equivalent if John Hardin had to play North Hardin in the region championship.”
John Hardin didn’t have an emotional game like the Purples. The Bulldogs have been quietly going about their business. They have rolled to playoff victories over North Bullitt, Grayson County and Jeffersontown.
The Bulldogs have had their sights set squarely on getting to this point in the playoffs and erasing the painful memories of a season ago. Wallace understands John Hardin’s frame of mind.
“I understand they probably want revenge,” Wallace said. “Everything went wrong for them last year. They’re thinking revenge. We look at it as they’re the opponent in our way to getting back to the state championship.”
Revenge? Sure, after what happened last year.
Getting to next week’s state championship? That’s the only thing that matters.
No matter what type of reaction a John Hardin player gives at the mention of those two dirty words – Bowling Green.
Chuck Jonesis The News-Enterprise sports editor. He can be reached at (270) 505-17-59 or firstname.lastname@example.org.