Dawson's here, right where the Bulldogs belong — making their own run in the playoffs and making everyone in Dawson remember better days on the football field.
These Bulldogs are the first to reach the postseason since 2009 and they arrived in style and in force, blowing away Evadale in the opening round the Class 2A DII bi-district round 42-2 in a game that wasn't that close.
Evadale's offense didn't produce any points, and the defense did little to slow down a Dawson running game that has left nine teams in its wake en route to a 9-2 record that has only been challenged by a couple of powerhouse teams from Thorndale and Mart, where they keep needing more room for all those state title trophies.
Dawson would have been a district champ had the Bulldogs lived in another district without Mart, the only team to hand the Bulldogs a loss in the past two months (Thorndale beat Dawson on Sept. 20).
So now it's on to Palestine, where the Bulldogs meet Mt. Enterprise in the 2A Area round of the postseason at 7 p.m. Thursday at Westwood High School's Panther Stadium.
The Bulldogs are the last team standing from the Golden Circle.
They’re here because Dawson coach Ronnie Striplin got them here.
Striplin’s the man who turned the football program upside down the day he arrived in Dawson three years ago. In three short years Dawson has gone from a team that had suffered a four-year losing streak and a program that was shrinking in numbers to one that has made back-to-back playoff appearances with a team spilling over with players and confidence.
When the Bulldogs made the postseason last year, Striplin admitted that: “We got here a year earlier than I thought,” he said at the time. “I thought next year would be the year.”
Next year is now, and this year's team has won and won impressively. In their nine victories, the Bulldogs have outscored opponents by more than 300 points (396-91), and they do things their way with an in-your-face, we're-coming-right-at-you offense that's built on hard work and hard running and works because the kids play a disciplined brand of football that Striplin preaches daily.
In August he announced to his team on the practice field that, “I'm going to win this year,” he shouted. “You can come with me or not, but I'm going to win!”
They arrived in the playoffs together, winners up and down both lines of scrimmage.
It hasn't come easily, but it has come to Dawson because of a demanding work ethic that pays off in the trenches, where Dawson's front line on offense of Josh Encina, Cameron Spain, Levi Elkins, Seth Springer, Justin Winchester and tight end Bodey Martinez have made things happen all year.
The Bulldogs have rushed for 3,663 yards without a 1,000-yard rusher.
It's an offense that starts with Brendan Horner, a tough and savvy quarterback who Striplin says, “can avoid being tackled in a phone booth,” and it spreads out — spreading the wealth and the yards — to a group of players who all know how to find daylight and know what to do with it when they find it.
Horner has rushed for 609 yards and eight touchdowns, and can get the tough yards when he needs them while the Hamilton Brothers, a pair of juniors with deceptive speed, have found running room all year. Ja'Mariyea Hamilton has rushed for eight touchdowns, gaining 803 yards on 53 carries for a whopping 15.2 yards per carry average, and Da'Mariyea Hamilton has rushed for 740 yards on 64 carries (11.6) and scored a dozen touchdowns.
Jakoby Moore has picked up 686 yards (9.9) and scored 10 touchdowns to give the Dawson Foursome a combined 38 touchdowns.
Horner has thrown for six more, completing 16 of just 46 passes for 306 yards when Dawson has needed them.
The Bulldogs are rolling in the playoffs even after losing Zane Guerra, a fullback/linebacker who is a leader on and off the field, to an injury.
Guerra was a big part of a swarming defense that hits teams all at once.
The Bulldogs don't just swarm they take away yards every Friday night. The group has a remarkable 81 tackles for losses and 22 sacks that include nine tackles for losses and four sacks by Guerra.
Devin Abram leads that attack with 16 plays for losses and four sacks. James Drake and Alexander Fuller each have 7.5 tackles for losses, and Spain and Martinez have seven each. Martinez has 64 tackles and is second on the team to Springer, who leads with 74 tackles, including five for losses.
Dawson will need every ounce of defense against Mt. Enterprise, a team that is 10-1 and looks a lot like Dawson staring in the mirror.
The Wildcats have rushed for 3,321 yards and 40 touchdowns. Most of that has come from quarterback Kendre Miller, who has run for 2,526 yards on 153 carries for an amazing 16.5 average and 30 of the Wildcats' 40 touchdowns. Miller has thrown for five more, completing 25-of-42 passes. Derrick Jackson is the team's other weapon. He has gained 591 yards on 80 carries.
It could end up being a wild shootout with both teams tearing up the track in Palestine Thursday night.
But one thing is certain: Dawson's here, right where the Bulldogs belong — making their own run in the playoffs and making everyone in Dawson remember better days on the football field.