In the past several years, Oak Grove and Brandon have put together some memorable high stakes games.
This year’s matchup looks to be different as Brandon (4-4, 2-2) has struggled while the Warriors have dominated. Even with half of the Bulldogs’ wins from forfeits due to COVID-19, Oak Grove coach Drew Causey has no plan to overlook the Bulldogs.
“We’ve had some major battles with Brandon over the years and South State championship games,” Causey said. “Every time I think we have ever played them it’s a game that always comes down to the wire. I know our kids are always excited to play them because they have a really good program.”
Brandon’s two-game losing streak was snapped last week after Meridian forfeited. The Bulldog’s only two wins on the field came with a 6-0 win over Madison Central and a 20-13 quadruple overtime win over Gulfport. In Brandon’s last two games, the Bulldogs lost to Petal 21-0 and were defeated by George County 28-10.
Offensively, Brandon has struggled to produce this season as the Bulldogs have averaged 7.6 points per game. On offense, Brandon primarily runs the ball and has had minimal success as the Bulldogs have recorded 99 yards per game. Brandon’s leading rusher is running back Zailon Johnson, who has totaled 228 yards and three touchdowns on 60 carries. The Bulldogs also split carries between Ozarrio Smith and Nathaniel Blount, who have combined for 310 yards on 74 carries.
Despite Brandon’s problems on offense, Causey expects that the Bulldogs will return several key members of its offense from injuries.
“On offense, they have struggled a little bit, but they still have talent on that side of the ball,” Causey said. “I think they have got some guys coming back that have been banged up and will be healthy.
“They have a lot of underclassmen that are starting, something around 10 sophomores. We have been there before, and it’s tough. Sophomores are sometimes not ready to play, but sometimes you have to play them.”
At quarterback, Brandon switches between Doby Bartling and Josh Sullivan. Bartling has passed for 324 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions on 58 attempts. Sullivan is more of a running quarterback and has passed for 96 yards and three interceptions while rushing for 76 yards on 36 carries.
“They’ll play a couple of different quarterbacks,” Causey said. “One likes to run it more than the other does, and the other is more of the passer. We will see both of them, but we just have to be prepared. We have to know which one is in the game and know what their tendencies are and what they like to do.”
Most of Brandon’s success stems from its defense, which has held teams to an average of 19 points per game. The bulk of the defense’s success comes from its defensive line. As a team, Brandon has recorded 47 tackles for loss, 12 sacks and seven turnovers.
“Defensively, I think they are really good,” Causey said. “They fly to the football. They play a lot of 3-down and 4-down fronts. They like to blitz a lot. They are not really weak anywhere on their defense. They have a bunch of really good players, and not many people score a lot of points on them.”