At 0-3, John Hardin is in an unfamiliar position heading into tonight’s game at unbeaten Meade County.

The Bulldogs are off to their worst start since the 2014 team opened 0-4.

“We knew when we made this kind of schedule that it would be a tough road to hoe,” John Hardin coach Chris Engstrand said. “The kids have handled it very well. We’ve told them we want to use the first five games to prepare us for the next five games.”

That would be when district play begins at home Sept. 27 against Louisville Valley.

“When you’re putting in a lot of pieces to the puzzle it takes time,” said Engstrand.

The Bulldogs have been outscored 135-26 in losses to Elizabethtown, Central Hardin and Danville.

The Bulldogs’ opening five opponents have started the season 11-3. By comparison, the four district opponents — Valley, Moore, Marion County and Spencer County are a combined 2-10 so far.

“The kids have done a nice job of hanging in there,’’ Engstrand said. “We’re telling them to keep their eye on the prize and to understand the process and to look for improvement and not base everything on the scoreboard.”

That 2014 John Hardin squad started 1-5 and rallied after the rough start to reach the Class 5-A state semifinals.

In Meade County (2-0), the Bulldogs face a team that can equal last year’s win total with a win in the 8 p.m. matchup at Hamilton Field.

“We’ve played hard, but we should play hard,” Meade County coach Larry Mofield said. “There’s no excuse not to.”

Behind a strong running attack led by junior transfer Austin Oppel, who arrived from New Albany High School in Indiana, the Green Wave have won road games against Franklin-Simpson and Pleasure Ridge Park.

Oppel has rushed for 454 of Meade County’s 598 rushing yards.

“Last year we couldn’t run the ball,” Mofield said. “This year we have a really good running back and our offensive line has been good. Our wide receivers and slots need to work on blocking better and when we do that, we could be even better.

“He has great vision and great balance,” Mofield said about Oppel. “That’s something that you don’t coach; it’s God-given talent.”

Oppel also has a team-high six catches for 78 yards.

Senior quarterback Cason Brady has added 101 rushing yards and two scores, while throwing for 140 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.

Mofield said junior Eli Ridgeway, who was moved to center after starting center Gavin Morris broke a forearm in the first scrimmage of the preseason, enjoyed a big game against PRP.

“He anchored the offensive line,” Mofield said. “He can play any position up front.”

Mofield said he expects the Bulldogs to present a challenge, regardless of their winless start.

“They will be ready to beat Meade County,” he said. “...They are better than what the record shows right now and if our kids don’t believe that, they’ll be in for a rude awakening.”

Senior running back Darian Camery leads the Bulldog attack with 156 yards in three games. John Hardin is averaging just 3.3 yards per rushing attempt.

“Right now our focus is all about getting better each week so we’re ready for the second half of the schedule,” Engstrand said “Our kids are not afraid of a fight in a phone booth.”

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

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