South Delta enjoying magical season|[11/23/07]

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 23, 2007

ROLLING FORK — Last year’s short run in the Class 3A playoffs following a 9-1 regular season left a bad taste in the mouths of the South Delta Bulldogs.

This season, despite a lineup that features more juniors and a pair of major in-season injuries, the Bulldogs have advanced to the third round of the Class 2A playoffs after beating Bruce 24-14 in Rolling Fork last week.

Tonight, the Bulldogs (9-3) get a rematch with the unbeaten West Bolivar Eagles (12-0) at Leland Young Field in Rosedale.

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Coach Derrick Hooker said his team has enjoyed the fruits of having another game to prepare for.

“The best thing is that our season hasn’t ended. I’d hate for it to be over for this team,” Hooker said. “This group is similar to last year. They worked really hard in the weight room and it has paid off for them.”

Hooker had to replace the bulk of last year’s offense. Garrett Williams ran for 1,200 yards and is now a special teams player for Delta State, while quarterback Anthony Cartlidge, who threw for 1,600 yards in 2006, is at Lane College. Also gone were the team’s top receiver in Chris Robertson and its best lineman in Robert Johnson.

Senior defensive end Stallard Williams, who led the state in 2006 with 25 sacks, was considered the team’s best returning player. That was, until he broke his leg in the fourth game and was lost for the season. The Bulldogs also lost their starting quarterback in week six.

“We had to go with our second string quarterback, but other people just stepped up,” said junior tailback Darryl Barnes, who stands just 5-foot-6 and weighs 160 pounds but has taken over much of the offensive load.

Last week, Barnes accounted for 40 yards in a 70-yard fourth-quarter drive that clinched the win over Bruce. The junior finished the game with 132 yards on 20 carries. For the season, he has rushed for 1,753 yards and 12 touchdowns.

“It’s hard to compare him to Garrett. I’m just glad to have two great backs for two consecutive years,” Hooker said.

Now, if they can just avoid the same postseason fate for two straight years. Offensive tackle Eugene Williams said last year’s 27-26 loss to Booneville in the first round of the 3A playoffs has served as a good motivator.

“We worked hard because we didn’t want to lose again in the first round. It feels good to go further,” he said.

In an unusual circumstance, the Bulldogs will be facing a West Bolivar team that they’ve already played once this season. The top-ranked Eagles won 20-14 in Rosedale on Sept. 21.

The loss left the Bulldogs with a 2-2 record. They’ve since won seven out of eight, with the lone loss coming to Hollandale Simmons, 12-6, in week 10. The last two wins came in the first two rounds of the playoffs as South Delta dispatched Leflore County (47-26) and Bruce (24-14).

“I felt we lost that game on one play,” South Delta offensive tackle Eugene Williams said. “We fumbled and gave them the ball on the 5-yard line. It cost us the game.”