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Bulldogs focused solely on Pirates

SWEET WATER — The Bulldogs were supposed to meet Linden in the semi-finals of the 2009 Class 1A state playoffs. Everyone in Marengo County knew it. Moreover, the players on both teams knew it. Both teams were on a roll. Both were region champs. Both were clearly the best squads in the class. Then Nov. 20 happened.

Linden failed to keep up its end of the bargain in a 13-6 loss to Brantley and Sweet Water got caught asleep at the wheel in a 17-14 loss to Loachapoka. The most anticipated game of the year was forced to remain a hypothetical scenario.

This go-round, a similar circumstance exists. Linden is at home in the third round against a perennial power. And Sweet Water is at home against an athletic team bent on pulling an upset. The primary difference, according to Bulldog head coach Stacy Luker, is his team’s mentality.

“I think this team has done well this year on focusing on what’s right in front of us,” Luker said of the Bulldogs. “They remember what happened last year.”

That focus will be a big deal for the Bulldogs Friday night when they welcome St. Jude to town.

“They’ve won 11 straight,” Luker said of the Pirates. “They are just very talented, very athletic. They’ve got great skill players they like to distribute ball to.”

The Pirates offer a unique challenge to the Sweet Water defense with their affinity to spread the ball to a number of players, making it difficult for a defense to key on any individual or approach.

“They spread it out and they can get in the wishbone and run right at you,” Luker said. “The best thing they probably do is distribute the ball to their playmakers. You’re really not focusing on one guy.”

When Sweet Water has the ball, they will be faced with an aggressive defense that will likely load the box against the run.

“They run a 5-3 and really get after you,” Luker said of the Pirate defense.

But the greatest challenge St. Jude poses to the Bulldogs just may be in its athleticism. All the way down the roster, the Pirates are loaded with speed and quickness. That fact has Luker looking to his offensive and defensive lines as the difference makers.

“I think this is just one of those games where we feel like they’re more talented than us, more skilled than us,” Luker said. “We’re just going to lay it up front with our offensive and defensive lines and see if they can lead us.”

Sweet Water and St. Jude are scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. Friday night at Nolan Atkins Stadium.