ZEPHYR — For the Zephyr Bulldogs, Friday’s Six-Man Division II Region IV championship contest is not a typical playoff encounter. Not only are the Bulldogs vying to be one of the final four teams remaining in the state bracket, revenge is on their minds as well.
The Gustine Tigers eliminated Zephyr from the postseason, 56-14, a year ago, and the rematch between the No. 6 Tigers (9-3) and the No. 8 Bulldogs (8-3) will be held at the site of last year’s contest — Comanche’s Indian Stadium — at 7 p.m. Friday.
“They’ve been talking about it this week,” said Zephyr head coach Landon Buffe. “I think they wanted this rematch and wanted a chance to redeem themselves, so to speak.”
The Bulldogs carry a seven-game win streak into Friday’s game and are coming off a season-high 90 points and 637 yards of total offense in a 34-point second-round win over Iredell.
“Offensively, we looked pretty good last week,” Buffe said. “Iredell had some problems stopping us, but we also had a hard time stopping them. It basically came down to we had to outscore them.”
Outscoring teams has not been a problem for the Bulldogs during their win streak. In the last seven games, Zephyr is putting an average of 71.3 points per game on the board and has eclipsed the 70-point barrier five times.
Zephyr is led by spread back Jason Hughes, who has rushed for 1,525 yards and 17 touchdowns, while passing for 1,207 yards and 26 TDs. Against Iredell, Hughes finished with 159 yards on the ground, 113 yards through the air and contributed three touchdowns each way.
Cord Biddy turned in his best offensive performance of the season last week with 143 yards rushing and three TDs to go along with four catches for 148 yards and three more scores. For the year, Biddy has rushed for 655 yards and 12 TDs, while adding 30 catches for 461 yards and a dozen scores.
Other key weapons for the Bulldog offense include Chris Newton with his 983 yards passing and 17 TDs, while Luke Creed has caught a team-high 50 passes for 1,129 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Gustine has plenty of weapons of its own, however, as the Tigers — who sport their own six-game win streak — enter Friday’s game averaging 56.7 points per game. During its win streak, Gustine is putting 57.5 points per game on the board.
The Tigers’ main threat on offense is spread back Evany Cervantez. In four district games, Cervantez averaged 378.2 yards of total offense per contest. He passed for 786 yards and rushed for 727 yards in league play.
“Gustine’s got a spread back that is pretty good,” Buffe said. “He throws well and is definitely very elusive. He’s going to cause some problems for us, but we’re just going to have to get him under control.”
Gustine’s top receivers during district play were Colton Hicks and Garrett Leggett. Hicks had 257 yards receiving and seven touchdowns in the first three district games, while Leggett finished with seven scores and 242 yards in receptions in league play.
In charge of slowing down Gustine’s attack will be a defense led by Biddy and Hughes. Biddy has a team-high 165 tackles and is coming off a 25-takedown effort last week. Hughes has added 105 tackles and a team-high 11 interceptions, including two last week with one going 68 yards for a touchdown.
Also recording double-figure tackle numbers against Iredell last week were Taylor Hart (16), Chase Jackson (15) and Ryan Martin (14).
Three different players led Gustine in tackles in its district games. In the Tigers’ first two league games, Jon Poage finished with 23 tackles. Hicks tallied 16 in the third contest and Leggett chalked up 11 in the district finale.
The Bulldogs and Tigers share four common opponents in Cherokee, Mullin, Iredell and Lohn. Each team posted 4-0 records against those foes, but Gustine barely survived a 70-64 second-round contest against Lohn on Thanksgiving night. Lohn, which lost to Zephyr by a 73-26 count in late October, dropped a potential game-tying touchdown pass with four seconds left.
Buffe and the Bulldogs, however, will not be underestimating Gustine based on last week’s final score.
“This time of year it’s hard to judge,” Buffe said. “The kids have changed and the teams have changed. It’s like trying to compare apples to oranges.”
Zephyr’s first-year head coach did state that winning the turnover battle would be the key to advancing to next week’s state semifinal round.
“It would be a big joy for everybody involved,” said Buffe of potentially advancing past Gustine. “A lot of people’s hard work would really have paid off if we can get a win this week.”
Friday’s winner will face the Region III champion, either defending state champion and seventh-ranked Northside (10-2) or No. 2 Woodson (10-2), next week.