Before the DeSoto County’s final regular season game at Lakewood Ranch, I asked Bulldog head coach Bumper Hay what was needed to happen for the team to reach the playoffs.
He replied, “Just win.”
The Bulldogs did that with a 41-6 thumping of the winless Mustangs. Hay told the team, “Seniors, this season you finished 7-3. Now your last season in high school starts. Congratulations on the berth (in playoffs), but it doesn’t mean a thing if we don’t get ready to whip whoever they put in front of us. Whether we go to Hardee or we go to Tampa or wherever we’re going, we’re going to win a football game.”
The team didn’t play a perfect game, but they played a complete game. They did what they were supposed to do and they dominated the Mustangs, which is what great teams do. The Mustangs were never in the game.
Lakewood Ranch drew first blood with a 42-yard field goal, but the Bulldogs came back barking with 34 unanswered points. After another Mustang field goal, the Bulldogs tacked on another touchdown to disappoint the Lakewood Ranch fans who had come out for senior night.
The Bulldogs had the ball for two series in the first quarter and scored on both. First, a 27-yard run by Jay Pelham put the Bulldogs on top, 7-3. On the final play of the quarter, Trayvis Smith went virtually untouched from 23 yards out to give DeSoto a 14-3 lead after the first quarter.
Sophomore Tony Blanding got his first start as quarterback and had a nice game. He called his own number (14) and reached pay dirt from 14 yards out with 9:10 left in the first half. Four and a half minutes later, Blanding hit Keimar Richardson from 23 yards out to give the Bulldogs a 28-3 lead at the break.
Cousins Nate and Willie Maybell made it a family affair, as they were responsible for the fifth score. Nate intercepted a pass on the goal line and returned it to the 30. William took it to the house on the first play to up the score to 34-3 with a missed extra point.
After the Mustangs hit on another field goal this time from 35 yards out, Blanding found Arnold Mele on a crossing route from 37 yards out. That made it 41-6 with just under six minutes left to play.
Six touchdowns from six different players. The Bulldogs had over 250 yards rushing with Maybell leading the way with 87 on two carries. Pelham led the team in carries with eight, with a total of 67 yards. Neo Hillard averaged seven yards a carry, with 49 yards on seven attempts.
Blanding had over 100 yards passing with two touchdowns. He made some good decisions when under pressure, tucking the ball under his arm and running when he couldn’t find a receiver. He made just two poor decisions on passes and they both were nearly picked off.
The Bulldogs only punted twice ... and those were both in the third quarter. Besides Maybell’s pick, Ethan Redden also got one on the final play of the game.
DeSoto had only one action penalty in the first half and that was for holding. They had trouble with offsides on the kickoff team and struggled to keep the ball on the field. They got sloppy in the second half and had a couple of personal fouls called on them—two were back to back in their own territory that led to the last field goal.
There is nobody on the team that played during the last season that the Bulldogs made the playoffs. That was in 2014. Neo Hillard had experienced the struggles over the past four years. The senior responded to his feelings after the game.
“I feel so great that we are 7-3. It’s time to celebrate. It doesn’t matter who we play, we’re just going to come with it.”
The Bulldogs will be playing at Tampa Jesuit tomorrow night at 7:30.