The Blanket Tigers and Zephyr Bulldogs both put themselves in position to win last week, but came away with their third losses of the season. When the two square off in the Bulletin’s Six-Man Game of the Week, they will be attempting to right the wrongs that have led to their slow starts.
An injury-plagued Blanket (1-3) squad will welcome Zephyr (1-3) and first-year head coach Landon Buffe at 7:30 p.m. Friday for the Tigers’ homecoming game as the former district combatants continue their Brown County rivalry.
The Tigers are coming off a 42-38 overtime loss to Cherokee in which the Indians converted a 40-yard field goal to stun head coach Darin Barrow and company.
But even more alarming than the loss in a game few expected Blanket to lose, is the number of players the Tigers have nursing injuries. Of the 14 players on the varsity roster, nine are hurt and six are attempting to play through the pain, according to Barrow.
“We’re just trying to play one game at a time and play with whichever hand is dealt us,” Barrow said. “We’re playing with the kids that are healthy and trying to do the best we can. The boys are fighting real hard, but we’ve been plagued with injuries and sickness the last few weeks. But we’re still going out there and playing every down.”
Zephyr’s only win of the season came two weeks ago — a 58-38 victory against the same Cherokee team that surprised Blanket.
“We’re not going to read anything into that at all,” Buffe said in regard to the results Zephyr and Blanket experienced against Cherokee. “Any given week anybody can get beat. That’s a proven fact.”
The Bulldogs are coming off a 57-34 loss to Santa Anna, though Zephyr owned a 26-14 lead at intermission. A second-half letdown perplexed Buffe, who has otherwise been pleased with the development of his team.
“I think each week we’ve shown improvement,” Buffe said. “That’s something that makes my job a little easier when we’re constantly improving a little here and there.
“Last week, offensively and defensively we looked pretty good in the first half and it gave us a little bit of confidence that we can move the ball. The second half, we just came out flat and that’s something we have to get corrected this week before we go into the Blanket game.”
The Bulldogs jumped out to their 12-point halftime lead last week behind touchdown runs of 6 and 4 yards from Chase Jackson, a 4-yard Jason Hughes run and a 24-yard scoring toss from Hughes to Luke Creed.
Zephyr racked up 573 yards of total offense against the Mountaineers, led by 149 yards passing from Chris Newton and 136 yards passing from Hughes, who also rushed for 161 yards. Creed caught a team-high nine passes for 138 yards.
But the Bulldogs threw four second-half interceptions, while the defense — led by 19 tackles from Cord Biddy and 16 from Hughes — gave up 43 straight points to start the second half and 438 yards rushing.
“We need to improve on taking care of the ball and eliminating turnovers,” Buffe said. “We also have to capitalize whenever we have the ball in our possession. We need to capitalize on those opportunities to score.”
Blanket also had three costly turnovers which kept Cherokee in the game and negated the Tigers’ 401-275 advantage in total yardage. Blanket was also flagged seven times for 48 yards, compared to the Indians’ four penalties.
“We had some penalties and fumbles in key situations that swung the momentum the wrong away against Cherokee,” Barrow said.
On the plus side, Brian Box rushed for 158 yards and a touchdown and Zach Isham added 55 yards and a score. Through the air, Box threw touchdown passes to K.J. King and Caleb Reich, and Box caught a scoring pass from Isham.
The Tigers finished with 175 yards passing and 226 yards rushing.
Defensively, Blanket gave up 211 yards through the air, but King, Timothy Langston and Darrell Greenwood recorded interceptions for the Tigers.
Like Buffe, Barrow believes his team’s ability to avoid turnovers could be the difference in a win and a loss.
“We have to hold on to the ball and control it in order to win game,” Barrow said.
Both the Bulldogs and Tigers have two games remaining before beginning their respective district races. For Zephyr, a win Friday — coupled with winless Mullin on the schedule next week — could catapult the Bulldogs through the rest of their season as they attempt to defend their Division II, District 14 championship.
“It’d be a big momentum builder for us going into district if we could get a couple wins, but that’s yet to be determined,” Buffe said.
For the Tigers, the wins would be welcomed, but getting healthy is Blanket’s greatest concern over the next two weeks.
“At this point, we would love to have wins, but it’d be better for us long-term to stay healthy and have nobody else get hurt,” Barrow said.
SIX-MAN GAME OF THE WEEK, Zephyr (1-3) at Blanket (1-3), 7:30 p.m. Friday — Switzer Field, 2006 Result: Blanket 95, Zephyr 48