Bullard got a two-year break from the District of Doom in 2014 and 2015, only to return to the state's most stacked district in 2016.

The final year of Shannon Wilson's tenure ended with a 3-7 record and 0-5 in district, which followed consecutive playoff berths for the first time since the early 1990s.

But enter Scott Callaway, who in his first year at the helm has Bullard sitting at 2-1 in the District of Doom. After dropping the league opener to Center, 39-35, the Panthers (3-4 on the season) took down Palestine and Chapel Hill in consecutive weeks, with a playoff berth within reach.

"We're still in the early stages of it, I guess the halfway point now, but we've got a lot of good football teams, players and coaches in this district," Callaway said on Wednesday. "I'd like to be sitting a little better, but it is what it is. It's a very, very tough district."

Wilson was the longest-tenured and winningest coach in Bullard history, and finished as the program's second head coach to leave with a winning record. He led Bullard past the first round for the first time in school history in 2011.

But Callaway took the job with an impressive pedigree of his own, having led Big Sandy to consecutive state championship games in 2004 and 2005 before taking the head job at Gladewater and then the offensive coordinator position at Mesquite for seven seasons.

"I tell you what, it feels good to be back in East Texas. Bullard has great kids, and that's what it's all about. It has a great reputation as a community, the school and district in itself and a great superintendent and administration," Callaway said.

The Panthers could definitely make quite the impression in Callaway's first season by going into the postseason out of the District of Doom. The next three games will be Bullard's biggest test, however, with No. 1 Carthage on the bill this week followed by Henderson and Kilgore.

"It all comes down to respect for your opponent, and we have total respect for Carthage and what Coach (Scott) Surratt and them are doing," Callaway said. "They're a really good football team. We just want to give ourselves a chance in the fourth quarter and hopefully pull off a 'W.' We're going there with the intention of trying to win a ballgame."

Bullard has been riding the arm, legs and hands of a trio of Bowman brothers offensively, with senior quarterback Cleet Bowman leading the offense with 1,411 yards and 18 touchdowns passing with no interceptions through seven games.

Luke Bowman is Bullard's leading rusher with 59 carries for 278 yards and four touchdowns, and Colton Bowman has 17 catches for 211 yards and a touchdown. Will McCowin leads Bullard in receiving with 21 catches for 479 yards and seven touchdowns.

"These kids have been sponges all year. They've really taken in what we've taught them. There are a lot of similarities as the year before but different terminology and maybe a different angle from the coaching part," Callaway said. "But we have great senior leadership and our kids just have fun coming to work every day. They're having fun and enjoying the game and that makes it that much more enjoyable as a coach."

Callaway said he knows his team will have its hand full with Keaontay Ingram and Co. on Friday night -- the Bulldogs haven't scored less than 42 points in a game all season and haven't won by less than 20 in six of seven games.

But for Callaway and his team, the end goal remains the same.

"You always set the goal of being in the playoffs, everybody does that. And Carthage is definitely a playoff-worthy opponent," Callaway said. "It's all about the draw when you get them, whether it's in district, the playoffs or the state championship. This is our opportunity to play the No. 1 team in Texas, and we're going to tee it up and play our hearts out for 48 minutes."

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