By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
SPRINGFIELD — The Rolla Bulldogs (3-1) spent the summer making adjustment after adjustment.
After all, switching offensive schemes from a spread attack to the old-school style of the wishbone isn’t one of a simplistic nature.
But for junior bell cow Malachi Ray — who had two rushing scores (8 yards, 5 yards) — the change in philosophy illuminates what the Bulldogs do well: run through the gaps while possessing the versatility to bounce the rock around the ends, which is exactly what they did on the road in Friday’s 34-6 final at Parkview High School (1-3).
With battling the wishbone, more was asked of the Parkview defense: as defensive units have to respect the dive plays, pitches, options, quarterback runs, or passing out to the receiving corps.
Ray took advantage, sprinting his way for 71 yards, and his two touchdown scampers opened and closed the scoring.
“I am just really thankful for my linemen. Honestly, if it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be where we are,” said Ray.
So, where exactly where are they?
After the win, the Bulldogs sit 3-1 on the young season: a season that includes a run-heavy offense that’s producing 27 points per game.
For Ray, exhibiting an innate field vision and allowing his lineman time to open up real estate is step one on his checklist.
And as for his lineman, they are the beneficiaries of a free meal.
“Yeah, I owe them some McDonalds, supposedly,” Ray said. “I just said, ‘Let me score some, and I’ll get you McDonalds.’ They were blocking pretty well, [so] I am proud of ‘em.”
Rolla wasted little time in serving as the aggressors — both offensively and defensively.
The offense benefitted from added time on the field, with Parkview going 3-and-out or turning over the ball at multiple junctures: playing right into the Bulldogs’ opportunistic hands.
Ray found the end zone on the Bulldogs’ opening drive, but Parkview answered right back, as senior tailback Nardo Trout juked two defenders at midfield and took the rock 49 yards.
“That first score, it really started the game for us,” said Ray. “I was ready to get back out there.”
A few drives later, the Bulldogs orchestrated a 12-play drive, which culminated with a Jack Hounsom 2-yard run up the middle of the Vikings’ interior.
The Vikings committed three turnovers on the night, with a muffed punt coming on the ensuing drive.
Again, the Bulldogs pounced on the opportunity.
Hounsom once again called his own number, using finesse as his linemen opened up holes along the interior yet again for his second time in the end zone, as the Bulldogs extended their lead to 21-6 at halftime.
“We were just able to keep hitting, keep hitting,” Hounsom said. “We were able to get a touchdown on that opening drive, and that really helped us because the past couple weeks, I fumbled a snap on the first drive and it was just good to get into a good rhythm.”
In the fourth, Dawit Pritchett used his 5’8” frame to elude defenders, as he found pay dirt on the 10-yard run.
To fire on all cylinders early highlighted the weekly preparation.
“It helps us a lot. We are a downhill running team, so it helps us out to get out and establish that early,” Hounsom said.
The Bulldogs opened the season with a 32-24 win against Glendale, and they followed it up with the 35-14 win against Hillcrest.
Then came the buzzsaw against West Plains, when they fell 55-7 to a tough Zizzers team.
Hounsom admitted that while the landslide loss hurt, it simply fueled the Bulldogs’ fire.
“We just got hammered, had some mental miscues. It was really humbling,” Hounsom said.
The Bulldogs are fast and balanced, which was evident by the interior running as well as the ability to bounce it off-tackle when needed: forcing opposing defenses to pick their poison when constructing game plans.
“We have a great backfield. All five guys are capable of producing big plays every time they touch the ball,” Hounsom said.
Offense typically gets the praise after a win, but the Bulldogs’ defense also keyed the win, as Rolla committed two turnovers — which could’ve have balanced out the momentum in the second half.
“The defense helped us a lot,” Hounsom said. “It was really just one missed play. And the rest of the game, just getting us back on the field without letting them [Parkview] score.”