Tuesday, December 13, 2011

SPORTS >> Bulldogs too Strong for Carlisle

Leader sports staff writers

Carlisle’s mascot is the Bison, but it was a Bulldog that thundered downhill throughout the class 2A state championship game Saturday at War Memorial Stadium. Strong’s Kenneth Dixon turned in a record-setting performance as the Bulldogs beat Carlisle 45-20.

The Bison weren’t full strength in the second half. A controversial play knocked senior starting quarterback Zac King out of the game with less than a minute left in the first half and his team threatening to score. Strong held a 16-point lead at the time, and went on to win 45-20, relegating Carlisle to runner up for the fifth time.

The Bison (13-1) had first and goal after the late hit on King, but fumbled it on two of the next three plays, losing the second fumble and all the momentum they would have taken into halftime if they had been able to score.

Carlisle coach Scott Waymire doesn’t believe King’s departure was the difference between scoring and turning the ball over.

“We’re real fortunate to have Chris Hart,” Waymire said. “They’re both starting quarterbacks. Both of them could start for a lot of teams in the state. We didn’t pick up a blitzing linebacker. It’s just one of those things.”

King lined up at wide receiver for the second time in the game and made a 17-yard reception to the Strong 5-yard line. Dixon met King and forced him out of bounds at the end of the play, then grabbed King’s jersey, spun him around and flung him headlong into the concrete retaining wall that closes in on the sidelines near the end zones of War Memorial Stadium.

King was down for several minutes and ended up with a broken hand and missed the rest of the game. Dixon was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, but was not ejected from the game, despite pleadings for the Carlisle sidelines and fans.

Carlisle’s offense was still effective, but with King out of the game, was not effective enough to keep up with the unbelievable performance turned in by Dixon, who ran for a state championship game record 348 yards and five touchdowns on 28 carries.

Waymire still praised his team.

It’s a heartache I promise you,” Waymire said. It’s just one of those things, you can’t ever swallow it but I’m proud of the guys to accomplish this. A lot of young men dream of playing in the state championship game that never reach that dream and these guys did. It’s going to hurt for a while, but when they look back on it they know they had a tremendous senior year and a terrific year in 2011. I’m very proud of them and proud to be their football coach.

Strong coach Shane Davis was jubilant play, and that’s a heck of a football team over there. Our kids came out and played hard, and they were prepared.”

Carlisle hurt itself by committing three turnovers, two lost fumbles and an interception, inside the Strong 10-yard line.

It didn’t take long for Dixon to make a statement Saturday night. He ran 63 yards around the left tackle for a touchdown on the first play of the game. He also ran in the two-point conversion to give the Bulldogs a quick 8-0 lead.

Not only did Dixon set the state championship game rushing record and tie the record for rushing touchdowns in a final, but a crowd of 4,688 watched as Dixon became the state’s single-season rushing leader.

The 5’11, 210-pound Dixon, who has verbally committed to Louisiana Tech, broke the single-season rushing record on a 35-yard run with 8:52 left in the game. He finished the season with 3,153 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns on 315 carries. On his sixth carry of the game, Dixon also became just the ninth player in state history to rush for 6,000 yards in a career.

“It feels great man, it feels great,” Dixon said after being asked how it felt to set the state rushing record. “I can’t thank my offensive line enough. Those guys work hard for me. They know that every time I score a touchdown it’s like them scoring a touchdown as well.”

Dixon assuredly would have set the record sooner if Strong hadn’t had two open dates on its regular season schedule.

“Ever since I was little my dad had me work on my game,” Dixon said. “It’s just something I grew up on. My dad taught me everything I know.”

Nettleton’s Derek Lawson set the previous single-season rushing record in 2006 when he ran for 3,090 yards and 36 touchdowns on 335 carries.

“I’m glad,” Davis said about Dixon setting the single-season rushing record. “We were wondering if he’d be able to do it knowing what kind of defense Carlisle has. They’ve shut down so many high-potent offenses, and we’ve wondered if he’d be able to do it, and I’m glad he did.”

Carlisle’s offense took a bit longer to move the ball as they gained their yards in small chunks. On fourth down of its first drive, Carlisle coach Scott Waymire called a successful fake punt when senior quarterback Zach King hauled in a 23-yard pass from punter Deric Herring.

Just four plays later, Carlisle turned the ball over on downs when Hart’s pass fell incomplete.

Strong capitalized on the Bison turnover as the Bulldogs went on an 86-yard on 11-play drive that ended with a 40-yard touchdown pass from Dixon to junior wide receiver Jamarian Ford on the first play of the second quarter. The two-point conversion was no good and Strong led 14-0 with 11:52 left in the second quarter.

Carlisle’s offense managed to move the ball into Bulldog territory the following drive, but a Bison fumble resulted in another turnover. Strong’s offense was moving the ball as usual, but a few mishaps forced the Bulldogs into third and long.

On third down, Dixon’s pass was intercepted by sophomore defensive back Austin Reed. Two plays later, sophomore fullback Bo Weddle ran 44 yards for a Bison touchdown with 4:05 left in the half. The two-point conversion was no good after a fumble on a double handoff attempt.

Strong followed by going eight plays for 64 yards, capping off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run by Dixon with 0:55 left in the half. Lamar Williams punched in the two-point conversion to make the score 22-6.

Despite having less than a minute to work with, Carlisle moved the ball to the Bulldogs’ 5-yard line when Hart hit King for the 17-yard reception that resulted in his game-ending injury.

Carlisle ended the drive on a fumbled snap that was covered by Strong linebacker Antonio Green and the score remained 22-6 going into the half.

Carlisle opened the third quarter with a 56-yard touchdown run by Weddle on the first play of the half. The two-point conversion was no good, and the Bison trailed 22-12.

On Strong’s first drive of the half, a clipping penalty threatened to thwart the Bulldogs’ momentum, but Dixon erased the bad play with his third touchdown run of the game. This one came from 40-yards out with 8:47 left in the third quarter. Williams ran in the two-point conversion to make the score 30-12.

Carlisle moved the ball deep into Bulldog territory yet again, but another turnover inside the Strong 10-yard line killed the drive. Hart’s pass was intercepted by Dixon, but the Carlisle defense got the ball back on downs. Carlisle got another shot but also couldn’t convert on fourth down.

Strong responded with another touchdown run from Dixon, this one from 39 yards. Arriun Gatson ran in the two-point conversion to give Strong a 38-12 lead with 1:33 left in the third quarter.

Another Bison turnover on downs resulted in a seven-play drive that ended with Dixon scoring his fifth and final touchdown of the night, this one from 27 yards. Williams kicked the extra point to make the score 45-12 with 6:42 left to play.

Carlisle answered with a nine-play drive that ended with Hart finding Herring for a four-yard touchdown pass. Hart ran in the two-point conversion with 4:37 left to set the final margin.

“At this point you go with what got you here,” Davis said. “There’s no reason to change anything now, and that’s what we did. We went with what got us here and it paid off.”

Strong (11-3) finished with 468 yards of offense with 393 of those yards coming on the ground. Carlisle finished with 382 yards of offense with 221 coming on the ground.

On top of Dixon’s 348 rushing yards, he completed four of nine passes for 75 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Weddle led the Bison rushing attack with 166 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Hart completed 11 of 21 passes for 138 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Ty Vaughn led the Bison defensively with nine tackles, while Weddle finished with eight.