Bulldogs prepare for rivalry game with playoff hopes alive. “This game has a heartbeat of its own.”

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, October 25, 2022

NEDERLAND — The Nederland Bulldogs jumped back into the playoff hunt with a big win against Galena Park last week. They will have to win their next two games to have a shot at making the playoffs.

As if they needed any more motivation, Nederland (2-6, 2-3 in District 9-5A Division II) squares off against Mid County Madness rival Port Neches-Groves (6-2, 4-1) in the Bum Phillips Bowl. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at PNG Friday. Those not able to make the game can watch live at the Sheffield Productions YouTube channel for no cost.

“In my 33 years of this game, either coaching or playing, I don’t know that the week before has any impact on it,” Nederland Head Coach Monte Barrow said. “This game has a heartbeat of its own. I think kids start focusing on it the minute the previous week’s game is over.”

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This week marks the 99th meeting between the two teams in 97 years. PNG leads the all-time battle with a record of 52-39-7.

In the past nine contests, the game has been decided by one score six times. Nederland took home the trophy last year with a 38-28 win on the road. PNG won the previous three contests.

There are not many games that have an atmosphere comparable to MCM. Barrow said PNG’s senior-heavy squad has an advantage with experience.

The Bulldogs have several sophomores starting on defense, but that has not prevented them from being successful. The Bulldogs defense ranks fourth in the district, despite the team’s woes on offense. The defense has held opponents to an average of 285 yards per game. Barrow said he is ready to see how his team handles the environment and emotions of this game.

“If you practice certain plays to be successful in the game, you have to practice other things that might not have to do with running a play, like the emotional part of it,” Barrow said.

It is common for teams going to play at PNG to blast the school’s fight song during practice to get the team acclimated to the hostile environment, but don’t expect to hear it coming from NHS this week in practice.

“That has been done before, but I don’t know if we can take that much of it,” Barrow said laughing.

Barrow also praised the PNG squad for how well they have played this season. The Indians offense ranks fourth in the district, averaging 368 yards per game with a fairly even split between rushing (1,504 yards for the season) and passing (1,447).

“(PNG quarterback) Cole Crippen is playing really well,” Barrow said. “They have a great group of seniors on this team. That is always big. They have three receivers that any team in this district would start. Having said all of that, that doesn’t mention the offensive line that is the best we have seen. They are the best in this area and many areas. You can’t copy that size and practice against it.”

Barrow said one of the biggest improvements for the rival team has been the intensity of the defense.

“They fly to the football,” Barrow said. “To me, that has been the biggest difference. It looks like they have a three-down front and the play you call looks like a good play. All of the sudden, they have 10, 11 guys at the football at the line of scrimmage. We will have our hands full on both sides.”