Fresh off its bye week, John Hardin has a chance take a firm grasp on the top spot in the Class 4-A, District 3 race.

“We tried to focus on the little things, and they recovery,” Bulldogs coach Chris Engstrand said of last week’s bye. “We needed to give these kids some time off physically and mentally. The coaches needed time off, too. It all adds up and we gave them a miniature vacation and we went back to work.”

John Hardin (2-4, 1-0) visits Louisville Moore (2-4, 1-0) for a 7:30 p.m. Friday start.

Engstrand said Moore has been hard to get a gauge on offensively.

The Mustangs’ passing game has been relatively inefficient. Quarterback Rae Von Vaden is 39-for-104 (37.5 percent) for 540 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions. His top two targets are Will Duncan (11-265-5) and Jaylin Lord (7-103-0).

The running game, though, is a different story.

Jamari Wilson leads that with 72 carries for 627 yards and four touchdowns.

“Coach (Joe) Stockton and I went and scouted them last Saturday, when they played at Nelson County versus Spencer (County),” Engstrand said. “They lined up in the I and did things that way. Coach (Marcus) Hyche we’re talking and maybe they figured out that they’re not who they thought they were — that they’re not the team to stand back there in the shotgun and try to pitch it around.

“That maybe their best opportunity for success is clock control, run the football and play action pass when they need to. That’s what we’re thinking moving forward, but we’ll be ready for both versions of the Mustangs.”

Vaden has 74 attempts for 459 yards and eight scores.

“A lot of that is, when things break down, he scrambles,” Engstrand said. “He’s gonna get out of there. He does a good job of getting out of the pocket and finding space. That’s tough when you’re preparing for No. 7 (Wilson), who’s a good running back, now you also have to prepare for him (Vaden) if things go bad for them in the pocket, now he can scramble and get out there and make plays.

“We have to make sure we don’t do too much, that as defensive lineman, we corral him and keep him in the pocket and allow the cavalry to get there.”

The Mustangs had 406 rushing yards and 66 through the air in last week’s 42-6 district win over Spencer County.

John Hardin quarterback Kadon Wilson is 55pf-r103 for 582 yards, three touchdowns and six picks.

His top four targets are Andrew Davis (11-160-0), Kari Barnes (8-109-1), Isaiah Harris (13-106-0) and Yukiah Reyes (7-63-1).

“Sometimes you have to throw it a little bit top open us some run lanes,” Engstrand said. “We can’t continue to see eight-, sometimes nine-man boxes and think we’re gonna run the football. It’s just not gonna happen.

“Kadon has done a good job of being effective when we’ve needed him to be. We’ve done a decent job at times of catching the ball and getting five or six yards and that’s allowed us to move the chains. That’s really been Coach Stockton’s focus the past couple weeks — let’s keep the chains moving.”

Darian Camery has 41 carries for 223 yards and three touchdowns and Dominick Hodges 53 rushes for 203 yards and two scores.

One of the things Engstrand was looking for was exiting their first five games relatively healthy, and they are.

Linebacker Nic Surley is back after being injured in the North Hardin game (Sept. 20).

“We’re fortunate to be healthy,” Engstrand said.

Cameron Brown leads the defense with 55 tackles, 20 for loss. Camery has 39 tackles and three interceptions. Elijah Webb has 32 tackles, eight for loss.

“I think we’re starting to find our groove a little bit defensively,” Engstrand said. “We’ve looked better in our three-man front than we have in our four-man front all year. We’re gonna start off in that and we continue to see people put more focus in the box, we’ll have to match up.”

The Bulldogs’ defense has forced 17 fumbles and recovered six.

“At the end of the day, we have to limit our turnovers,” Engstrand said. “I felt like some of the penalties we had (in a 17-14 win over Valley), we were just trying too hard. Sometimes you’re doing too much to help your team out instead of focusing on what you can do as an individual.”

Mike Mathison can be reached at 270-505-1758 or mmathison@thenewsenterprise.com.

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