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Looking for a return trip

The Bulldogs got in their final day of work Thanksgiving morning as they prepared for their semi-final round game with No. 3 Linden tonight.

For Sweet Water, one of the keys to preparation has been shutting out the distractions which have accompanied the marquee matchup.

“We’ve been here before,” senior Tate Luker said. “We’re used to the talk.”

The Bulldogs, who advanced to the fourth round with a 40-point drubbing of Brantley last week, have seen their performances improve consistently as they have gone through the playoff schedule.

“Good competition keeps you focused,” Sweet Water head coach Stacy Luker said. The Bulldogs, who have won three of the last four state championships, reportedly turned in one of their better weeks of practice in preparation for Linden.

Stacy Luker said his team has not appeared complacent during its current playoff run.

“It’s harder now than it was in 2004,” he said. “I think they just have that hunger to excel and be the best.”

The Bulldogs’ drive seemed to be restored following a late-season loss to 2A’s No. 1 team, Leroy, on Oct. 31.

“I think sometimes you get complacent,” Stacy said. “I think (the loss) helped us. We didn’t want to lose the game, but losing to Leroy was not the worst thing that could have happened to us.”

The Bulldogs go into the game with a great deal more playoff experience than their counterparts from just up Hwy 43.

“We’ve got a group of seniors that’s 48-5 with two state championships,” Stacy Luker said. “They want to end it on their terms. They want to end it the right way. And the only right way is to end it in Birmingham.”

That senior class will be look to senior Damaraquis Williams to lead the way on offense.

“They’re very athletic and physical,” Williams said of the Patriots. “If we lose a play, we’ve got to win the next one. We have to stay focused and execute. We can’t make mental mistakes.”

Williams, who also plays corner, is one of only a few Bulldog players who figures to log significant minutes on both sides of the ball. That depth should provide Sweet Water an extra boost as the game wears on.

Williams also knows how important it will be for his team to remained disciplined on the defensive side of the ball.

“We can’t give up any big plays,” he said of Sweet Water’s efforts to limit a Patriot attack that has been anchored by senior running back tandem Maurice Tate and Shantrell Braxton, who have combined for 3,742 yards and 61 touchdowns on the ground this season.

“We need to play a pretty complete football game because this is the playoffs,” Tate Luker said. “We’ve been playing a lot better these last few weeks. We played a pretty good ball game against Leroy and then we kicked it in gear and we’ve been steadily getting better every week.”

Sweet Water’s arrival at this point has been the result of a tremendous amount of work from dozens of people. However, perhaps the most remarkable job done by any one individual this year has come from offensive line coach Mark Davis.

“He’s just a great offensive line coach,” Stacy Luker said of Davis, who was charged with replacing four of the five starters along the offensive front of the 2007 state championship team. “He does a great job with them. He gives them a good understanding of who to block and how to block. He demands perfection.”

Davis’ efforts, along with those of the players he coaches, will likely go far in determining tonight’s outcome.