When the Battle of Big Sandy renews Friday, one team will be looking for playoff position, while the other is still searching for its first victory.
The Bridgeport Bulls probably didn’t envision heading into their rivalry with Decatur winless, but if they pull off the upset it could change the whole dynamic in District 9-3A.
Decatur (5-3, 1-1) and Bridgeport (0-7, 0-1) renew their rivalry Friday at Eagle Stadium. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.
“There have been times when both teams have been down a particular year and came out and played well in this game,” Bridgeport head coach Danny Henson said. “Last year we were a heavy underdog and played better than anybody thought. This year we’ll be even a bigger underdog. We just have to show up ready to play.”
For the past 14 years the same two coaches have gone to battle in this series, with Decatur head coach Kyle Story winning eight of the 14 head-to-head matchups.
The Eagles won six straight from 2002 to 2007; Henson owned his largest winning streak of three from 2008 to 2010. The Bulls won last year’s meeting 28-21.
“Definitely the biggest part is, this is a district game,” Story said. “We are both fighting to get into the playoffs.”
With four of the five teams in District 9-3A advancing to the playoffs, the Bulls could get right back in the postseason race with a win.
But it won’t be easy.
Bridgeport has lost six players for the season due to injury and spent the better part of their bye week shuffling players around getting them accustomed to new positions.
The Eagles, on the other hand, have been polishing their offense a little more every week. Through eight games, quarterback Grayson Muehlstein has put up 1,239 passing yards and 12 touchdowns.
“He’s playing at a high level right now,” Henson said. “You can see why TCU showed so much interest in him.”
Decatur’s new fast-break offense is averaging 33 points per game.
“Their pace is faster, but we’ve played other teams that do the same thing,” Henson said. “They are doing everything well, but it might be a bigger concern if we hadn’t seen similar teams.”
Bridgeport has played a brutal schedule and the results have not been good.
“It’s unfortunate, with all their injuries,” Story said. “They have played a tough schedule and had a rough non-district. The tough year they’ve had with injuries has been a killer.”
Despite the setbacks, Story says the Bulls still have plenty of weapons.
“They’ve got some threats on the field,” Story said. “Trey Cook has a good arm and is accurate with the football. They’ve got guys that can run the football too. Bridgeport is used to scoring points. They’ve done it every year.”
Henson wants to control the ball Friday.
“The last three games we’ve had a hard time scoring,” Henson said. “We need to finish off drives to give ourselves a chance to win.”
The big key for Bridgeport is to keep it close early. The Bulls have been outscored 191-38 in the first half this season.
Anything can happen in this rivalry and Henson knows he’ll need the ball to bounce his way if Bridgeport is going to retain the infamous Jar of Sand.
“We would have liked to have won any of our games, but there is nothing we can do about the outcomes now,” Henson said. “We have an opportunity to get a win against a good Decatur team, and a chance to pull off a big upset.”
Story said it’s fun to be part of this kind of rivalry.
“It’s for bragging rights,” he said. “It’s a different kind of rivalry because it’s always been clean. Most of the kids know each other – they’re friends, they go to church with one another, but they want to beat them more than anybody else.”
BRIDGEPORT (0-7, 0-1) AT DECATUR (5-3, 1-1)
7:30 p.m. at Eagle Stadium
Bridgeport: Harris Rating 189
Notable: The Bulls have lost six players to season ending injuries.
Decatur: Harris Rating 210
Notable: Decatur has lost four of the last five matchups with Bridgeport.
Harris line: Decatur by 25