on November 1, 2007 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

It doesn’t get any easier

PENDLETON — After closing its regular season with six consecutive wins, the Pendleton High School football team secured a home game for its playoff opener Friday.

And as Bulldog head coach Paul Sutherland said, home-field advantage for the playoffs is exactly that, a big advantage.

“It’s huge, and I said that when we had to go to Palmetto and play…the region runner-up trophy means nothing, the home-field advantage in the playoffs is what we’re after,” he said. “So, it is huge – you don’t have to travel, your booster club makes money, you get the concessions. It’s very big, very big.”

But nobody did the Bulldogs any favors when making out the brackets, as their first-round opponent, Chesnee, is the ninth-ranked team in the AA poll – perhaps making the unranked Bulldogs a slight underdog.

“They’re the most explosive offense we’ve seen since Blue Ridge,” Sutherland said. “They remind me a lot of Blue Ridge in their skill people. Their quarterback is a special player, the (Cedric) Proctor kid, and they’re averaging 41 points a game on offense. (They’re) no-huddle, fast-paced – and we see the spread offense some, but most people have one or two you have to cover, they’ve got the total package. They’ve got four tremendous receivers, a quarterback who’s a dual threat and a running back who can hurt you. So, they live and die by that, and they do a great job of it.”

Despite all that, Sutherland said the Bulldogs wouldn’t try to change much about their own game plan, rather they’ll just try to improve on the things that helped them finish the season with those six straight wins.

“You don’t change your base scheme – we’re not going to try to reinvent what we do,” he said. “Your intensity picks up some, especially after a week where we’ve clinched where we are now. Last week was kind of for the seniors and to honor them, but this week the intensity level has picked up – and the kids have done a good job with that.”

After Pendleton opened its season with a 1-3 start, many were ready to write off the Bulldogs’ chances to be a contender – although Sutherland certainly wasn’t one of those people.

“If you’d asked me where I expected this team to be after the Abbeville game, I’d tell you ‘7-3 and in the hunt in November,’ which is where we want to be,” he said.

As for his team’s mindset, Sutherland said he’d be pleasantly surprised with how fired up his players have been for their playoff opener.

“Absolutely – and you always worry about that,” he said. “This day and time, whether they’ll be tied up, but they hit that corner (of the practice field) yesterday talking playoffs, preaching playoffs. And I believe we’ll play well. Whether or not it’ll be well enough to beat Chesnee, I don’t know.”

One factor the Bulldogs have in their favor is that they are starting to get healthy, after dealing with a host of injuries for much of the season.

One of the key guys that’s back to 100 percent for Pendleton is senior running back Chris Lee, who rushed for 160 yards on just eight carries in the win over Liberty last week.

“Chris has come on and gotten healthy, and again, being able to use him just on one side of the ball has helped,” Sutherland said. “He wasn’t healthy at the beginning of the year – he had an ankle that nagged him for about four or five weeks there. He was one of the many – Charlie (Blackburn) went down, Reggie Earle we lost him, Tye Burke we lost him and Davis Owens went down.

“And all those were backs and our second wave of linebackers and spurs, it hit us in those two positions. And that’s why I kept telling people that we weren’t healthy, but we were playing hard. But Chris is healthy now, and he’s playing the best football of his career right now.”

And Pendleton will need him and his offensive teammates to play their best Friday, because as Sutherland admits, Chesnee has a lot of athletes on the defensive side of the ball.

“Defensively, they’re going to play that eight-man front and try to keep everything in front of you, and put those good athletes back in the secondary,” Sutherland said. “It’s almost impossible to break a big play against them because they have so much speed back there. You’ve got to keep the football, you’ve got to move the chains because you don’t want their offense on the field a lot.”

And while it certainly isn’t easy to open the playoffs against a top-10 team, even at home, Sutherland noted that his team would have to beat most of those teams anyway to get where they hoped to go.

“You’ve got to play them all anyway,” he said. “This time of year, I’ll play anybody in the playoffs – it doesn’t matter.”