y Rory Sharrock
For one week only, the Mt. Zion Bulldogs will experience what a high-ranking NFL team goes through at the end of the season, minus the huge paycheck and fancy cars.
The playoff-bound Bulldogs have a bye week to rest and heal their wounds before beginning the first round of the state playoffs on Nov. 14.
Mt. Zion finished the regular season at 6-4 and 4-3 in Region 4-AAAA, all without having an open date on their schedule. Although the Bulldogs already clinched a playoff berth, the team ended last week on a down note, falling 27-26 at Ola.
"They weren't focused enough for the game. I take nothing away from Ola. They played the perfect game and we played the imperfect game," said Mt. Zion head coach Jarrett Laws. "In essence it may be a good thing because now we have to go humble into the playoffs. We have to be much more hungrier than we already are."
This was a crushing loss for Mt. Zion against an Ola squad, which had only one win heading into last Friday's game. However, the coaching staff and the players have put their mishap behind them and have committed themselves to making a deep run at the state crown.
"If you start building the game up too much, by the time you get there it becomes anticlimactic," said Laws. "We have to take one practice at a time and have fun at that particular practice. As we get closer to game time, then we'll talk about it. But we're not going to build it up too much because the kids don't know how to temper their excitement."
It's been a light week on the practice field for Mt. Zion, with an off day on Tuesday and then again on Friday. When practice is in session, the Bulldogs have been working on ironing out their wrinkles and studying film of their possible playoff opponents.
While a playoff position has been secured, Mt. Zion's opponent and game destination has yet to be decided. Currently, the Bulldogs are sandwiched between Griffin and Jonesboro in the Region 4-AAAA standings.
Mt. Zion holds a tie-breaker over Griffin, but not against Jonesboro.
However, Dutchtown and Alcovy are still in the mix too. While the playoff picture in Region 4-AAAA is still cloudy, if the season ended today, the No. 3 seed Bulldogs would travel to Hephzibah to face the No. 2-seed Rebels from Region 3-AAAA. Hephzibah stands at 6-2 and 6-3 in league play with one game left on Friday at Cross Creek.
This game would be Mt. Zion's first postseason contest since 2004. The team's six wins is also the most they've won in four years.
"Jamie (Aull, offensive coordinator) helped me to understand. We doubled our win total, we have kids viable for college scholarships and the spirit of the program is changing. Every year we get a little bit better. I'm starting to take it to heart that we are making a difference in the program and we're doing things to leave it better than when we found it," said Laws.