Photo by Brian Paglia / Dutchtown junior cornerback Brandon Durden and the Bulldogs have won four straight games and are starting to click on all cylinders.
HAMPTON — Here comes Dutchtown again.
The Bulldogs survived for a 24-21 victory Thursday at Spalding to put a period on their non-region schedule. That’s four straight wins since losing at Griffin to open the season.
So the most successful county public school program over the past three and a half seasons at 27-11 — only Henry County (21-17) and Stockbridge (20-17) are close — is starting to make its presence felt again after a slip into anonymity last season.
You can’t say Dutchtown is on the radar quite yet. After its resounding 38-0 upset victory over then-No. 8 ranked and previously undefeated Riverdale, the prep pollsters with the Associated Press didn’t so much as sniff at the Bulldogs.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because Dutchtown flew under the radar for all of 2010 right up until the Bulldogs’ 15-0 upset at Thomas County Central in the first round of the playoffs. A loss to eventual state champion Chattahoochee left Dutchtown 11-2 — just the best season by a public school team in county history.
So as Dutchtown gets ready for its region-opener next week against Locust Grove (more on that later), we ask the question — are the Bulldogs headed for another postseason run?
Here’s a look at what they’ve done so far and what the future might hold:
What’s gone right
Take away one half against Griffin and you could say just about everything.
What’s particularly encouraging for Dutchtown is the resurgence of its defense.
Last season’s slide to 5-5 coincided with a significant step back in points allowed — from 7.4 in 2010 to 20.8 in 2011. Take away the 42 points allowed to Griffin and Dutchtown is giving up just 9.3 points a game so far this season.
Those nine returning starters are showing the impact another season of maturation can have, especially junior cornerback Brandon Durden. He’s started to emerge as one of the county’s top players, a shut-down corner with a knack for making plays.
What’s gone wrong
There’s that second half against Griffin.
Dutchtown did everything right in the first half of its season-opener. It had a 16-7 lead at halftime. The Bulldogs had never had that kind of a lead against the Bears.
It didn’t last long. Dutchtown didn’t score again, losing 42-16.
If 2010 is the new standard, then consider that that Dutchtown team lost just 10-6 to Griffin and led 6-3 until late in the fourth quarter.
This Dutchtown team was outscored 35-0 by the Bears in one half alone.
Is the gap that great between Griffin and Dutchtown this season?
The obvious answer is the Bulldogs’ Oct. 19 game at Stockbridge.
The Tigers beat Dutchtown 28-12 last year on the way to their best season in school history. They’ve been playing solid defense so far this season, even against M.L. King, the No. 4-ranked team in Class AAAAA.
The only problem for Stockbridge is its offense, which isn’t producing like it did last season after graduating several key players.
But the Tigers are just as battled-tested as Dutchtown with games against M.L. King and Griffin. Coach Kevin Whitley has this program in good shape in this his fourth season. Stockbridge will play good enough defense and make Dutchtown earn the No. 1 seed in Region 4-AAAA sub-region A.
Oct. 5, at Locust Grove.
The Wildcats are 4-1 and playing an exciting brand of offense behind quarterback Keenan Wise and wide receiver Cortez McDowell. Wise and McDowell have the explosiveness to give any team trouble.
Luckily for Dutchtown its offense has been just as exciting. It’s still the run-first look the Bulldogs have become known for, but there’s a different dynamic with senior quarterback and Missouri commit Donovahn Jones at the helm.
It doesn’t hurt that he’s got more weapons than Dutchtown has seen in ... ever? There’s running backs Will Smith and Malik Barkley. Wide receivers Brandon Thomas and Rodel Shorter. Tight ends Cameron Johnson and Darian Creed. And does anyone have a better offensive line, led by Middle Tennessee commit Jordan Harris?
If this game turns into a shootout, sit back and enjoy.
Dutchtown seems to have the defense to deal with Locust Grove’s — and even Eagle’s Landing’s — dangerous offense. It seems to have too much of an advantage on offense to lose to Stockbridge.
Expect the Bulldogs to be 8-1 going into the region playoffs Nov. 9.
And expect Griffin to be waiting again.