PREP FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS: Bulldogs eye rematch with run-happy Spencer Co.

John Hardin’s Dominick Hodges runs the ball against Marion County earlier in the season. The Bulldogs play Spencer County Friday night at Nelson County.

One game. Forty-eight minutes.

That may be all John Hardin senior defensive lineman Cameron Brown has left in his high school football career, and he’s not ready for it to end.

“We have practiced harder for this game,” Brown said. “Me being a senior, I don’t want this game to be it and none of the seniors do or any of my teammates.”

The Bulldogs (4-6) open the Class 4-A playoffs gainst Spencer County. The Bears defeated John Hardin Oct. 25, 45-31 at Bulldog Stadium. This time, the teams meet at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Nelson County High School. The Spencer County field is unavailable for play this year.

“I believe we’re ready for this game and we’re preparing to go and get a win,” junior running back Dominick Hodges said.

The Bulldogs are coming off a 14-6 win on Senior Night over Greenwood, a victory that has boosted John Hardin’s confidence, Brown said.

“You want to win your senior night game and we played like we wanted to win,” he said. “We’re pretty confident after that game and the way we played.”

Spencer County is 5-5 and riding a three-game winning streak.

“We know what they like to do and it’s up to us to figure a way to stop them,” said Hodges, who also plays linebacker.

The Bears have rushed for 2,806 yards this season, including 437 yards on 50 attempts in the first meeting. Spencer County passed one time in that game and has thrown for 624 yards on 44 completions in 103 attempts on the year.

“We have to stop them and not let them keep the ball,” said Brown, who leads John Hardin with 90 tackles, including 29 for a loss.

Bulldogs coach Chris Engstrand said on one possession in the first meeting, the Bears kept the ball for eight minutes and scored.

“We know what we’re going to get out of Spencer and how they’re going to do it,” he said. “It’s just a matter of how well we respond. Obviously, we’re going to make some adjustments from that last ballgame.”

With senior inside linebacker Darian Camery out for the season with an ankle injury, the Bulldogs moved junior Nick Surley Jr. from outside linebacker to the inside position.

“Moving him there has been a tremendous help for us,” Engstrand said. “We didn’t know he could play in there until we just threw him in there against Greenwood, but it turns out he’s better inside than he was outside.”

Junior Leeshawn Nailon has taken over for Surley at outside linebacker.

Senior Seth Thompson leads the Spencer County rushing attack with 146 carries for 1,025 yards and nine touchdowns. Two other backs, sophomore Jamarion Smith and senior Lawrence McLemore, also have rushed for more than 500 yards on the year.

“They’re going to control the clock by running the ball,” Engstrand said. “They’re not overly interested in throwing the football. In looking back at the film, there were times we just weren’t lined up correctly defensively and our kids were just thinking too much. We’re removing some of that this week and letting them play like we did last week where we let our kids just play downhill and play fast.”

The Bulldogs have ditched their one-back set and gone to a wishbone attack to rejuvenate their ground game.

“We’re a more powerful running team when we run the bone,” Hodges said.

Engstrand added, “We have since solved our rushing ailments and it’s better for our kids to be downhill and get our shoulders square and use the strength and physicality they’ve built in the weight room.”

Spencer County finished second in the district standings by virtue of the win over John Hardin. The Bulldogs are the district’s No. 3 seed.

Jeff D’Alessio can be reached at 270-505-1757 or jdalessio@thenewsenterprise.com

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