Special teams spark NAHS squad

The ‘Dawgs are looking to bounce back after a disappointing loss on the road as they return home to host Baldwyn this week.

Losing 26-7 to the Bearcats in 2008, head coach Ron Price knows Baldwyn will field another stout defense, which gave the Bulldogs all sorts of problems last season.

“They were even better on defense last year, and they were a lot bigger and stronger. The guys that they have this year aren’t quite as big, but they go 100 percent ever single play,” Price said. “As a coach, you have to love that kind of effort from those kids, but Eric Johnson had a great game last year, and we look for that again this year.”

Johnson ran for 133 yards on 18 carries in the 2008 contest and is coming off of a 183 yard performance against Corinth last week. Another area that excelled against the Warriors was the special teams unit, which combined for 171 yards on seven returns, including a 50 yard punt return and 57 yard kickoff return by sophomore Josh Creekmore.

“Josh has done a great job all year not only fielding punts, but returning them. In previous years, we’ve lost 20, maybe even 30 yards on punt returns because we didn’t field it, and they were able to roll and pick up another 20 yards. Josh has been a great add for our team this year, and our kickoff team has put us in a good position,” Price said.

Price and his staff have placed more focus on this unit, as they feel the extra work will give them the edge over their opponents.

“Going into this season, our entire staff has really focused on special teams. We’ve talked it up and really worked on it,” Price explained. “We blocked two punts last week, but unfortunately we couldn’t convert those into touchdowns. Special teams is a third of the game, and a lot of teams overlook those, but we think that can give us an advantage.”

Price acknowledged the turning point in last year’s Baldwyn game, a fourth down goal line stand that could have given his team the lead. The ‘Dawgs experienced these same problems against Corinth last week, as they failed to convert three times in the red zone.

“I think if we ever had the lead in that game, we could have won, but they stopped us on a fourth and goal play, and that’s been our motivation this year to finish the job,” Price said of the big stop from last season. “We’re pretty good from 20 to 20, but this year we’ve struggled a little bit, especially last Friday night putting the ball in the end zone. All week we’ve talked about that, and hopefully Friday night we can finish the deal and we can come out with a big win.”

There are several offensive weapons that Price hopes to see his defense stop, as the defending 2A champs are led by quarterback Tanner Gaines.

“Tanner Gaines is a very good athlete. He’s a big kid, and he’s very accurate,” Price said. “If given time, he can get the ball to who he needs to, and his receivers and running backs are also good athletes. We’re going to have our hands full, because they’re very athletic.”

The ‘Dawgs and Bearcats are slated for a 7:30 kickoff at Kitchens’ Field.