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Rockdale looks to bounce back at Morrow

After a remarkable first three weeks to the 2013 football season, things did not go as planned for Rockdale last Friday.

The Bulldogs, who had won their first three games and were looking to start 4-0 for the first time since 1987, instead were shut out by Langston Hughes 34-0 in a rematch of last season’s first round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs. The final score makes it seem as if host Langston Hughes ran away with things from the onset in moving to 3-0 lifetime against Rockdale.

But closer examination reveals a stunning turnaround after the teams returned from the halftone locker room. What was a 6-0 lead at the break for Langston Hughes turned into a 34-0 cushion before Rockdale could catch its breath.

First, an eight-play drive resulted in a rushing touchdown by Robert Saunders, his second touchdown of the game, and a 13-0 lead. Three minutes later, Rockdale quarterback Zuri Minnifield fumbled and the Panthers’ Deonte Jackson returned it for an 11-yard score. 20-0.

Less than three minutes later, Jocques Ross blocked a punt and Langston Hughes took just two plays to get a Bingo Martin 15-yard touchdown. Six minutes after that, Emile Sexton scorched the Rockdale defense for a 40-yard score that made it 34-0.

A 28-point swing in 11 minutes 52 seconds and the swing kept moving in Langston Hughes’ direction.

“We had some kids banged up, we put some back up players in, (Langston Hughes) took advantage of it. They got that punt blocked and they wanted it more than we did,” said second-year Rockdale coach Venson Elder. “No excuses.”

The defense and special teams had their respective issues, but the offensive side of the ball is where Rockdale seemed the most of sync. The Bulldogs had just 73 total yards, 36 coming on the ground.

“When (the opponent takes) away the run, we got to be able to pass block,” Elder said. “(Langston Hughes) came in to stop the run and we didn’t take advantage in pass block.”

Despite the lopsided second half and shut out - Rockdale’s third loss in the last two seasons against Langston Hughes by a combined score of 99-3 - the Bulldogs still accomplished quite a bit through the season’s first month. The Conyers school avenged each of its first three losses from a year ago, to Salem, Heritage and Drew, and the 3-1 record matches its best start since 2008.

With the successful non-region slate out of the way, Rockdale will begin a six game in seven week slate against Region 2-AAAAAA foes.

That stretch with Friday’s road tilt at Morrow. The Mustangs, who after Rockdale began 0-4 last season were the Bulldogs’ first victim in a shut out loss in week five.

Morrow, a Clayton County school, picked up its first win week three against Locust Grove, but last Friday struggled in a 43-14 loss to unbeaten Lee County.

Elder acknowledged the players struggled against Langston Hughes, telling his players in a brief postage meeting to “go home, feel like crap, and decide whether you want to be a winning program or not.” But the second-year coach also pointed out where he and his coaching staff also also improve in play-calling.

“As a staff we got to make better adjustments to get these kids in position to make plays, together as a staff,” Elder said. “(Langston Hughes) wanted it more than we did. Now we get to decide what kind of team we are.”