Despite losing a battle for the district championship to Cypress Lake last week, the DeSoto County football team entered the final game of the regular season with their playoff hopes alive.
The Bulldogs needed a win over Hardee and a loss by Stranahan High on Friday, but those hopes came crashing down quickly as the Wildcats ran by them for a 42-6 blowout loss at Wildcat Stadium.
“We’re not a spread offense, so we’re not built to go out there and sling it around,” Bulldogs coach Bumper Hay said. “We want to physically dominate people, and until the kids buy into the weight room, it’ll be difficult for us to physically dominate teams.
“(Hardee) has a big offensive line and our guys go both ways. It’s just about getting more numbers in the program.”
Playing without senior running backs William Maybell and Yarzmen Wesley — who was carted off by paramedics after a head-to-head collision in the second quarter — DeSoto County struggled to get its offense in rhythm.
Though Jakeemis Pelham was a bright spot with 17 carries for 147 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown to knot the game up at 7-7, it wasn’t enough against a Hardee offense that ran for 307 yards and five touchdowns.
Key plays: Hardee opened the scoring with a 37-yard touchdown run by Wilney Francois on the first play of its second drive.
DeSoto immediately answered as Jakeemis Pelham found an opening down the right sideline and raced into the end zone for an 80-yard score.
But that would be as close as DeSoto would get to taking a lead, as Ellis Hodges led a 73-yard drive and capped it off with a 9-yard score to take the lead for good.
The Wildcats were set up with an easy score to open the second quarter as a late hit by the Bulldogs on a punt from their own 10-yard line set up the Wildcats with the ball 14 yards away from paydirt. One play later, Caden Dunlap bulldozed his way for another touchdown and a 21-6 lead.
The Bulldogs nearly responded before halftime, leading a drive down to the Hardee 35-yard line, but sacks and runs for negative yardage forced them to punt — giving the Wildcats enough time to strike for a 60-yard touchdown with just 25 seconds remaining.
It appeared as if DeSoto might have a shot as Nelson “Kool Aid” Daniels recovered a Hardee fumble and returned it to the 3-yard line, but the Bulldogs were stopped at the 1-yard line.
From there on out, Hardee added two long touchdown runs — of 68 and 57 yards — in the fourth quarter to start a running clock.
Key stats: Pelham had a day with his 147 rushing yards on 17 carries, but the rest of the DeSoto offense only mustered 12 rushing yards on 12 carries.
The Bulldogs couldn’t get their passing game going, either. Quarterback Tony Blanding was sacked eight times for a loss of 53 yards and was 5-of-8 on pass attempts for 48 yards.
Hardee didn’t need to pass much as the Wildcats running backs accounted for 295 rushing yards on just 16 carries.
What it means: The Bulldogs season is officially over as they needed a win to keep their chances of moving up from No. 9 in the region to the final playoff spot at No. 8. Though the season ended in defeat for DeSoto, this marks two straight seasons of winning records as Hay tries to continue building up the program.
What they said: “We were young,” Hay said. “We have 14 sophomores on varsity and only four seniors who started. So if those guys commit and come back next year, we’ll have 14 juniors and we had 15 freshmen this year.
“So hopefully we keep creeping that number up to over 30 and then we’re the team rotating our offensive and defensive line. I never look at one season. It’s about building a program.”