By Jerod Young • Jerod Young • 

Bulldogs look to make good on their second chance

The Willamina Bulldogs suffer from a bug. It’s not the flu bug and it’s not a termite problem.

The Bulldogs are infected with the turnover bug.

It’s a problem that has plagued the offense in its last four games, and it’s one that has to be cured if the Bulldogs stand a chance at 7 p.m. tonight against the best team in the state, the No.1-ranked Dayton Pirates.

“The turnovers have to stop,” Willamina coach Tim France said. “They hurt us, and they make our offense look less talented than it is. If we eliminate, or cut down the turnovers I think we can perform up to our full potential.”

That full potential France talked about showed two weeks ago in a 36-6 win over Gervais. In the win that secured the Bulldogs a first round playoff game, Willamina still turned the ball over twice, but it was an enormous improvement from the previous two games.

“That was a relief,” France said. “Granted, we still had turnovers, but the number was way down from the previous weeks and that alone put us in a better position to beat the Cougars.”

France said it gave the defense more confidence to go after the ball.

“It pumped them up,” France said. “Not just because they got more rest, but because they knew the offense wanted to win. So they went out and got the ball back for the offense.”

A motivated Willamina defense brought more aggression and forced four Gervais turnovers. This wasn’t the case the previous two weeks against Horizon Christian and Dayton.

Willamina had a combined eight turnovers vs. the Hawks and Pirates. With the two against Gervais, it brings the total to 10 turnovers in three games.

After the win against the Cougars, the Bulldogs began to master the art of controlling possession.

“We thought we were getting the hang of it,” France said. “Controlling our possessions and ball security. All of our work in practice on basics and ball security was paying off.”

The nasty turnover bug that slowed Willamina over the last month returned in its first round playoff game vs. Coquille. The 24-13 final was a Bulldog win, but it came at a price.

The Bulldog offense surrendered the ball to the Red Devil defense six times but managed to come away with the win. France admitted it wasn’t a good start to the playoffs.

“It wasn’t one of our best games,” he said. “We relied too much on our defense to keep our lead and our hopes of winning the game alive.”

The Bulldogs were lucky to escape Coquille and get another shot in the quarterfinals vs. Dayton. It is the Bulldogs first trip to the quarterfinals since 2008.

The key to success for Willamina will once again rest on the shoulders of the defense.

“They deserve more credit,” France said. “We’re fortunate to be a good team on both sides of the ball and when one side struggles, the other side tries to pick them up.”

It’s the defense that has been a remedy for the turnover-happy Bulldog offense. The Willamina defense has surrendered 148 points this year, which is second in the WVL, and the Bulldogs will be facing the top defense in the league. The Pirates have given up 85 points this season which means the defense surrenders just over nine points per game.

“That’s why they’re No. 1,” France said. “They are able to shut down offensive drives which can be very discouraging to offenses and that allows their offense to take control.”

France continued: “We’ve played them once and know what they do and we talk a lot about getting the basics right. For a game like this it’s no different. The approach is literally one play at a time.”

France said it’s when teams forget about that game plan that Dayton is able to take control and dominate.

In a game this important, with two teams that are equally strong on both sides of the ball, the outcome will be determined by which team makes the more costly mistake.

“We’ve had our fair share of mistakes lately,” France said. “But we’re not ready to stop playing yet and that’s all the motivation we need for a game this big.”

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