Aug. 28 must seem like a long time ago for the Rockdale football team. That night, the Bulldogs soundly defeated Madison County to open the season 1-0 for the second consecutive year. But that's where the similarities to 2008 and this season came to an end.
Since that victory, Rockdale has dropped three straight, two to county rivals Salem and Heritage, and last week's loss to undefeated Apalachee.
Yet taking an optimistic approach to the early part of the schedule shows that the Bulldogs haven't been getting blown out. They led against both the Seminoles and Patriots, and last week were tied with Apalachee midway through the second quarter before the Wildcats took the lead for good in a 20-14 win. The average margin of defeat has only been 5.6 points.
"I don't think we've been out of any game," Rockdale coach Mike Etheridge said. "We've been right on the bubble, couple plays away."
It doesn't get any easier for Rockdale as the Bulldogs head to Athens for a meeting with defending Region 8-AAAA runner-up Clarke Central. The Gladiators bounced back from a loss to Apalachee with a come-from-behind victory over Heritage last week, and at 4-1 still have region title hopes a year after a one-point overtime loss to Loganville on opening night kept them from the region crown.
Priority No. 1 for Rockdale will be to contain Clarke's dual threat quarterback, Martay Mattox. The junior leads the team with 281 yards and six touchdowns while completing 61 percent of his passes. But he isn't alone. Sophomore Davonta Appelby averages 5.1 yards per carry and senior wide receiver Dimitri Holmes has already collected 380 yards through the air.
"They've got a great receiver, great running back (and a) great quarterback," Etheridge said. "We just got to prepare for all three; if we only stop one, the others will hurt you. Our defense is one of our strengths."
Rockdale's offense has struggled, scoring just 38 points during the losing streak. Last week, the Bulldogs had seven plays of zero or negative yards and finished the game with 227 total yards, 70 of which came on Tavaris Williams' first quarter touchdown catch.
The rushing attack, which has been solid through the first four games, will be a key against an aggressive Clarke Central secondary and pass rush. Through five games, the Gladiators have 15 sacks and six interceptions.
Though nothing has been simple for Rockdale since opening night, a win today could get things moving in the right direction. After Clarke, the Bulldogs host slumping Cedar Shoals and 1-3 Winder-Barrow.
Kurt Aschermann Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.
SideBar: If you go
· Who: Rockdale Bulldogs (1-3) at Clarke Central Gladiators (4-1)
· Where: Billy Henderson Stadium, Athens
· When: 7:30 p.m. today
· Last week: Rockdale lost to Apalachee 20-14; Clarke Central defeated Heritage 14-10
· Series: Clarke Central leads 9-2
· Last year: Clarke Central won 37-32