Defense Has Bullard Panthers Right in Thick of District of Doom Playoff Race
BULLARD -- Not many people gave the Bullard Panthers a chance in District 16-3A, better known as the District of Doom.
Sure, Bullard went three rounds deep in the playoffs a year ago and brought back many of the same players that helped the Panthers pick up their first postseason wins in school history.
But was it going to be enough to hang in perhaps the state's toughest district, which features four state champions since 2004?
Through three weeks of league play, Bullard (6-1, 2-1) is still hanging around and with a win over Henderson (4-3, 2-1) on Friday in the ETSN.fm Dairy Queen Game of the Week, the Panthers can take one giant step closer to back-to-back playoff berths.
Third-year head coach Shannon Wilson knew his team needed to be much better than last year, especially on defense, in order to compete in 16-3A.
“I think we’ve been much better defensively this year, and a lot of that is familiarity in knowing what we’re doing with a bunch of guys," he said. "For the year, they’ve been very consistent and played really sound football.”
Bullard has allowed just 85 points all season, an average of 12.1 per game.
“The guys really know what we’re trying to do schematically and it allows us to play faster, and that’s huge for us," Wilson said. "Our coaching staff does a great job in preparing them technically and with the game plan. I think it’s an overall team effort week-in and week-out.”
What's more impressive is how well the group plays despite being at a size disadvantage almost every week.
"They see us in pregame and we're way smaller than they are," defensive back Holden Bryant said. "We have to show them what we're all about. When you see us, you don't expect us to win."
Added Wilson: “We ask them to play big. I think for the most part every player plays with a lot of desire and passion. Every kid knows what they’re supposed to do. I feel like they’re able to take care of their assignment and the familiarity for these guys makes it a lot easier.”
Bullard players don't mind being overlooked. The Panthers feed on it.
"I knew that people would underestimate us, but everybody here knew that we could win," linebacker Zack Holladay said. "We heard it from a lot of people that we wouldn't be anything in this district. But that's what we love, to prove people wrong."
Although Wilson praised his defense's body of work this season, he was critical of their performance in last week's 42-41 double-overtime win over Chapel Hill.
"We just had a few missed alignments that caused us to not be in the best position," Wilson said. "The effort was there, but I don’t think we tackled as well as we can. The whole thing in football is blocking and tackling, getting off your blocks and making tackles.”
Bullard's defense should be put to the test again on Friday at Henderson.
"Play hard, that's the key to every game," defensive lineman Trevor Rumbelow said. "Play as hard as you can, do your job, play with great technique and we'll be fine."