ZEPHYR — With three straight wins to their credit, the Zephyr Bulldogs appear primed to march through Six-Man Division II, District 14 and repeat as champions. The Lohn Eagles, however, will be attempting to derail first-year head coach Landon Buffe’s squad at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Bulletin’s Six-Man Game of the Week.
Zephyr (4-3, 1-0) crushed Novice, 59-12, in its district opener last week, which comes on the heels of victories of 82-36 over Blanket and 78-32 over Mullin.
But Lohn (4-2, 0-0) has had two weeks to prepare for the surging Bulldogs as the Eagles opened district play with a bye. Lohn has won three of its last four games — 82-34 over Brookesmith, 62-12 over Mullin and 69-34 over Cherokee. The Eagles’ only loss during that stretch was a 66-28 setback at the hands of Division I Rochelle.
Against common opponents, Zephyr and Lohn both defeated Mullin and Cherokee. The Bulldogs won the games by a combined 66 points, compared to the Eagles’ victory total of 85 points.
The Bulldogs likely have an edge in confidence due to their recent win streak, not to mention last year’s 46-25 win on the Eagles’ home turf.
“It helps having a little bit of confidence, but Lohn is a good team and we’re going to have keep our focus,” Buffe said.
The Bulldogs are averaging 73 points per game during their win streak, almost twice as many as the 37.3 points Zephyr was putting on the board through its first four contests.
“Offensively, we’re more or less figuring everything out,” Buffe said. “Things are starting to click and they’re starting to understand what we want to achieve.”
Zephyr might have one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the state as several Bulldogs have gotten into the scoring act over the past three weeks.
During the win streak, three players have recorded passing touchdowns — Jason Hughes (eight), Chris Newton (seven) and Cord Biddy (two) — three have rushed for touchdowns — Hughes (five), Biddy (four), Chase Jackson (two) — and six have grabbed scoring receptions — Luke Creed (seven), Biddy (three), Hughes (three), Ryan Martin (two), Taylor Hart (one) and Newton (one).
“We’ve been able to spread the ball around and get more people involved,” Buffe said. “Our offense isn’t just about one person and that’s definitely a plus.”
Through seven games this season, Hughes has been the most versatile weapon for the Bulldogs. Hughes has rushed for 917 yards and seven TDs, thrown for 803 yards and 15 TDs and caught 11 passes for 248 yards and five TDs.
Zephyr also has a complement for Hughes in the rushing, passing and receiving games.
Newton has completed 43-of-97 pass attempts for 740 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Biddy has churned out 429 yards rushing and five touchdowns. Creed has emerged as one of the leading receivers in the state with 38 receptions for 861 yards and 11 touchdowns.
But Buffe expects Lohn to present some problems for the undersized Bulldogs.
“They’ve got some speed and a little size and that’s going to cause us the most trouble,” Buffe said. “We also have to eliminate our turnovers.”
The Bulldogs’ defense continues to improve as well. Last week’s dozen points allowed were the fewest surrendered by Zephyr this season, and marked the third straight week the Bulldogs have allowed fewer points than the previous game.
“We’ve started a little slow in every game defensively, but last week we were finally able to figure things out,” Buffe said.
Zephyr scored three defensive touchdowns against Novice as Hughes returned two interceptions for touchdowns and Biddy brought back a pick for six points. During the win streak, the Bulldog defense — led by Biddy’s 90 tackles and Hughes’ 72 takedowns — has created 12 turnovers.
Shutting down the ground game will be the key to bottling up the Eagles’ offense, according to Buffe. In its 82-34 victory over Brookesmith, Lohn rushed for 653 of its 717 total yards, led by Josh Aguilar’s 494 yards on 21 carries.
“They’re going to run a lot of sweeps and dives and we’ll have to be able to stop that,” Buffe said. “They don’t pass much at all. Running the ball is how they attack.”
The winner of this game will likely have an inside track at facing Paint Rock in a showdown for the district championship.