With five consecutive victories by an average score of 69-20 to their credit, the Mullin Bulldogs are showing all the signs of a team capable of ending a playoff drought that dates to 2003.
Though Six-Man Division II, District 14 action doesn’t begin for the Bulldogs until next week, Mullin (5-0) will likely face its toughest challenge to date when it visits the Cherokee Indians (2-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Bulletin’s Six-Man Game of the Week.
Mullin first-year head coach Tony Mathison has attributed the Bulldogs’ undefeated start to team camaraderie and chemistry.
“We’ve started the season with an intensity and enthusiasm, and we’re playing together as a team first and foremost,” Mathison said. “We’ve pushed individual attention totally off the self. We don’t talk about stats, we don’t keep stats, everything is about the team and what we can accomplish as a team. The guys have done a good job becoming closer as a team, and they’ve gained a lot of confidence from the five victories.”
Mullin is coming off a 64-38 win at Iredell last week, the closest call of the season for the Bulldogs. Being pushed for four full quarters for the first time this season, Mathison considered that to be a plus for the Bulldogs.
“Last week was a difficult game against Iredell,” Mathison said. “It could have gone either way at any point until late in the fourth quarter. But our guys showed a lot of character and found out the emphasis on team first gave them the character to persevere through a difficult game. It was really a blessing to have to struggle and persevere for a win.”
The Bulldogs could have another fight on their hands against Cherokee Friday night. Cherokee — whose first win of the season came via forfeit — is averaging only 19.3 points per contest, but the Indian defense is surrendering just 24.7 points per game. The largest scoring differential in a Cherokee game this season has been 16 points — in a 32-16 loss to Lometa two weeks ago — and the Indians own both a two-point win and a two-point loss this season.
“We expect to see a very physical team with good athletes,” said Mathison of the Indians. “They run an I-formation like we do, but they have an unbalanced line. Defensively, they run a 3-2-1 and at times they send five people and leave the safety back. We’ve been working on schemes to handle that. You either have to have quality blocks or get rid of the passes really quickly.”
Another approach for the Bulldogs will be attacking Cherokee with a steady dose of the run, which has been Mullin’s biggest offensive strength. Randy Sims and Michael Weaver are the leading rushers for the Bulldogs, while Brandon Foster and Cody Welch have helped clear their paths up front. When the Bulldogs go to the air, quarterback Stetson Chesser and end Zach Maxey have provided significant contributions.
“Offensively, we’re continuing to run out of an I-formation like they did last year,” Mathison said. “We’re working on blocking better and running harder. The biggest key for us against Cherokee will be protecting the football and blocking their five-man rush.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Mullin will utilize several different looks in an attempt to confuse Cherokee’s offense.
“We run multiple formations,” Mathison said. “We run two different 3-3 defenses. One is a traditional 3-3, where the front three try and stop the run and the back three try and stop the pass. We also run a 3-3 with a spy on the short passes. We also have a 3-1-2 defense with more of a cover two scheme, and then we have a goal line defense where we man up and basically play backyard football.
“Against Iredell, we used all four formations on defense and we were literally changing from down to down to give their offense something different to have to deal with.”
With the district race on the horizon, and No. 2 Sidney a member of District 14 along with the Bulldogs, the battle for the two playoff spots is expected to be heated. While Mullin would prefer to carry a six-game win streak into next week’s district opener at Star, Mathison feels the Bulldogs will be ready for the remainder of the regular season regardless of what happens Friday night.
“We see this game as a win-win situation,” Mathison said. “We’d like to get the victory and keep our momentum going into district, but we also feel like we have the character to persevere if we struggle this game or Cherokee was to beat us. It’s all about keeping this game in perspective. We don’t have to win this game to be ready for district, but we are certainly capable of winning it.”