ZEPHYR — Thanks to their six-game win streak, the Zephyr Bulldogs clinched a second straight district championship and climbed to No. 9 in the sixmanfootball.com Division II poll. Being No. 1, however, is where the Bulldogs want to find themselves when the postseason is over.
The first step of that journey takes place at 6:30 p.m. Friday in Evant when the District 14 champion Bulldogs (7-3) tangle with the District 15 runner-up Iredell Dragons (8-3) in a Region IV semifinal playoff game.
After dropping three of their first four games, the Bulldogs have caught fire under first-year head coach Landon Buffe. During Zephyr’s win streak, it has outscored its opponents 409-130, an average of 68.2 to 21.7 per game.
“Everything has really started to click for us,” Buffe said. “The offense is starting to click, the defense is clicking pretty good. Each week they’re improving and getting a little better.”
Defensively, the Bulldogs have not allowed more than 26 points in a game since the start of district action. Zephyr is led by Cord Biddy’s 140 tackles, while Jason Hughes has added 92 takedowns and nine interceptions. Luke Creed has also picked off five passes.
“We finally got some kids in position where they needed to be,” said Buffe of the defense’s success. “Earlier in the year, we had some kids that weren’t where we needed them, but in the last few weeks they’ve been in the right positions they need to play.”
Iredell will counter with an offense that is averaging 50.3 points per game and put 74 on the board last week in a bi-district victory over Jonesboro. Defensively, however, the Dragons are giving up 40 points per game, which plays right into the hands of the explosive Zephyr offense.
The Bulldogs are led by Hughes, who was selected as the sixmanfootball.com player of the week in the final week of the regular season. Hughes has rushed for 1,366 yards and 14 touchdowns, while passing for 1,094 yards and 24 scores.
But Hughes isn’t the only weapon.
Biddy has 512 yards rushing and nine touchdowns and he’s also caught 26 passes for 313 yards and nine more scores.
Creed is among the state’s leaders in receptions with 47 for 1,041 yards and 16 scores, while Chris Newton has thrown for 850 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“Being able to spread the ball around on offense has been a plus for us,” Buffe said. “If Jason needs a little break we can throw Chris in there and he does a good job, or we can even throw Cord back there. It helps to rest them and it keeps everybody fresh.”
While the Bulldogs’ improvement is evident by their win streak, Iredell’s development can be seen by comparing scores. The Dragons needed overtime to get past Jonesboro in the season opener, but almost invoked the mercy rule in last week’s rematch.
Last week’s win also ensures Iredell doesn’t have to worry about shaking off any rust, while Zephyr’s bye could slow the Bulldogs’ momentum slightly.
“I wish we could have just went ahead and played a game,” Buffe said. “If we had some people injured the week off would have been a plus, but we don’t really have anybody hurt. It’s just one of those deals.”
Zephyr and Iredell share two common opponents this season, and the results were similar. The Bulldogs defeated Mullin, 78-32, and lost to Lometa, 65-43. Meanwhile, the Dragons beat Mullin, 68-20, and slipped against Lometa, 56-51.
On paper, the contest looks as though it could go down to the wire, which would not at all surprise Buffe.
“I think we’ll be evenly-matched and the turnover battle will be the key,” Buffe said. “They don’t make a whole lot of mistakes, but whenever they do we need to capitalize on them.”
Friday’s winner will face either No. 7 Gustine (8-3) or Lohn (7-3) to determine the Region IV champion next week.