Saturday, February 24, 2018

Bulldogs shut out by Rams

Hardin, coming off a 49-0 Homecoming victory over Livingston’s Park High, entered conference play last Saturday night against Billings Central hoping to show they can compete in the Eastern A.
The Rams quickly demonstrated to the Bulldogs that they need to improve in three areas — their secondary coverage, their passing game and their special teams – to successfully compete in the very tough Eastern A conference.
Head Coach Mike Flamm summed the game up saying, “Didn’t turn out like we hoped. Like the Butte Central game, when things started going against us we didn’t have any answers to pull ourselves back into it.” 
He added praise for the Rams: “Central is an awfully good team; they execute well. I actually think they’re more dangerous this year than last. They’re more balanced. We used to only worry about their running back, now the running back, the receivers, the quarterback is good and the line is solid — they get into everybody. They’re just a good team.”
Of the seven touchdowns Central scored, two were due to special team breakdowns and four were either touchdown passes or set up by a pass.
The Rams stopped the Bulldogs on their first possession, then blocked the punt, setting up an easy three-yard run to give Central an early 7-0 lead. They started the second half returning the kickoff for a touchdown.
Central waited through the first quarter to see if the Bulldogs had improved their passing game, meanwhile fine-tuning their own passing game. Once it was clear that Hardin was still having trouble completing passes, the Rams started packing the middle of the line to stop Connor Murdock, the one very powerful offensive weapon the Bulldogs have. Murdock ended the night hauling the pigskin 29 times for 154 yards, even with the whole Ram team focusing on stopping him.
Hardin was handicapped in their running after losing Steffan Walks Over Ice to a shoulder injury in the Park High game. To counter the loss, the Bulldogs brought in Trevin Baumann as a blocking back to lead Murdock. 
Coach Flamm said, “Without Steffan, we had to come up with an answer and we had an athlete on the bench that wasn’t getting a lot of playing time, so we had to teach him two or three plays to try to help us out. Give him another week or two and we’ll have something there we can work with in the future. Steff is a big piece of what we do. He may not be a headline guy, but every little thing he does is a big thing. We hope he will be back this week.”
Hardin did not have an answer for the Ram offense and even though it looked like the primary weakness was the secondary, Coach Flamm said, “I go back to what I said earlier in the year. You can point your finger directly at [the secondary], but we had only one hurry the whole game. We never got to the quarterback. We never put enough pressure on them, we didn’t stop their run well enough to get our lanes established, so you’re asking those guys to cover for too long a time. We’d back off and they’d dump it underneath. We’d move up and they’d run right by us. There’s a lot of inexperience in the secondary, lots of guys that haven’t played at the varsity level. One bonus for them is they did lead us in tackles this game, but that is not what we want.
“They were chewing us up on the run. We were in our best situations when they passed on first down and didn’t complete it. When we could get them in a second and 10, we tended to be able to lock in a bit more on what they could potentially do.”
The secondary did lead in tackles with Justin Zier and James Wilson each having six and Kennan Hooker finishing with five.
When asked about plans for improving the offense, Flamm said, “Cody Small is a running quarterback. He’s a sophomore and getting better each game. He can throw the ball well, but we need to catch the ball. We’re not good at it (the passing game). We work on it every week. We’re a run-first team, but we do need to be able to make the play when we throw it. We’ll find some pass plays that are better suited to our team and give us better opportunities to defeat the loading up the box to stop Connor.
“Every yard he got the other night was an earned yard. The referee would blow the whistle, but he was still driving the pile. He got 154 yards when they were loading up the box. Can you imagine what it will be like when we do figure out how to hit the open receiver and get the edge? I think we’ll be all right.”
Friday night, the Bulldogs host Miles City. 
“Another big challenge,” said Coach Flamm. “They’re playing with a lot of heart with their coach passing away a couple of weeks ago. Their quarterback is going to be our No. 1 focus. He’s smart kid. He has a good arm moves well outside the pocket and can run in between the tackles as well. With our secondary, we’ll have to clean some things up in a hurry because it could be a long day for them.”
Friday’s game will feature “Pack the Place in Pink” for breast cancer awareness. The Bulldogs extend condolences to Miles City and the Cowboy’s football team in particular for Coach Dan Stanton, who died recently due to a brain tumor.
Billings Central 55, Hardin 0
Hardin    0,  0,  0,  0 – 0
Central   7, 20, 21, 7 – 55