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Bulldogs still have bite

SWEET WATER — Rumors of their demise have been greatly exaggerated. Water cooler conversation around Marengo County for the better part of this season has consistently featured talk that this is the year to beat the Bulldogs. They have a freshman quarterback. Johnny Lockett sustained an injury. The offensive line has struggled. Yep. This is supposed to be the year.

Yet, as the playoffs opened and Sweet Water held its annual spot atop the Class 1A poll, Providence Christian learned firsthand on the bad end of a 70-0 bludgeoning that Sweet Water is, in fact, still Sweet Water.

The overlooked aspect of the Bulldogs’ success in capturing four of the last five state championships has been its dominating defense. The common denominator on every Sweet Water team that donned a ring and hoisted a trophy has been its defense. That fact is not lost on head coach Stacy Luker.

“We stress it all the time,” Luker said. “You don’t win a championship without playing great defense. Every one of our state championship teams has played great defense. We’re not quite where we’ve been in the past offensively. We’ve really leaned on our defense.”

Granted, the Bulldogs have not consistently posted the big point totals that have so often appeared in their box scores in previous years, but that does not mean they are not a potent offensive attack. What it does mean is that Luker and his staff have adapted to their personnel.

Bulldog blowouts in 2009 have seen reserve players enter the game earlier and stay longer in an effort to develop depth as the season wore on. That approach has paid off for SWHS as second round playoff action looms.

“We’ve been trying to get other guys that we are having to depend on now some reps early in the season,” Luker said.

Other differences in the Sweet Water offensive attack are subtle. The Bulldogs have adapted to a freshman quarterback and an inexperienced offensive line with one simple strategy.

“We’re not taking as many chances on fourth down,” Luker said.

But life is getting easier for freshman quarterback Brett Davis, and subsequently more difficult for future Bulldog opponents. The line play in front of Davis has become more consistent in recent weeks. Additionally, Davis gets back one of his primary weapons in South Alabama commit Johnny Lockett, the tailback who missed the last two games due to injury.

“We’ve been without Johnny for a couple of weeks. We haven’t played too bad. We came out and executed well on both sides of the ball,” Luker said. “We just sort of have to stay with our strengths and not put so much on our quarterback. Our offensive line is really starting to establish the line of scrimmage.”

But as the offense has worked its way through difficulties, Luker has not forgotten that constant on the other side of the ball.

“I didn’t realize until somebody told me that we’ve only given up 20 points to 1A opponents this year,” Luker said. The rest of the Bulldog allowances have come against Thomasville, Leroy and Bastrop (La.).

This week, the Bulldogs are preparing to host a McKenzie team that downed Fruitdale 52-7 in the first round of the playoffs last Friday. An athletic and capable team, Luker understands the challenge that lies ahead for Sweet Water.

“They’re an explosive football team, averaging 40 points a game offensively,” Luker said. “They spread the field well. They’ve got about four guys who can really run. They do a good job of utilizing those guys.”