VANCLEAVE, MS (WLOX) - It's a slightly different point of view for Jim Bloomfield's Bulldogs, but their eyes are still focused on a 4A state championship after finishing second in region 8-4A in 2013 and advancing to the third round of the playoffs.
Vancleave (4-6, 3-2) heads into the 2014 playoffs as the No. 4 seed from region 8-4A. The Bulldogs put together a 36-7 win over region champion Poplarville in the final week of the season. Even though that happened, the Bulldogs couldn't clinch No. 3 because Moss Point (4-6, 3-2) held the advantage on the tiebreaker and defeated Bay.
Vancleave rushed for 291 yards in the season finale against the Hornets, including 125 yards on 25 carries from senior running back Walter Williams, who also scored four touchdowns. Junior Dylon Mallette compiled 106 yards on just seven carries and senior Marlon Warren recorded 45 yards and a touchdown on three rushes.
The Bulldogs face a stiff test in the first round of the playoffs. The Florence Eagles (10-1, 5-0) are the region 6-4A champions and also feature a dynamite rushing attack.
In their third game of the season, Florence rushed for 519 yards and 10 touchdowns in a 73-32 win over McLaurin. Junior running back Isaiah Patrick, who had 1,883 rushing yards in the regular season, led the way with 220 yards and three touchdowns, while Kelton Carr posted 126 yards and three scores.
Over 11 games, Florence averaged nearly 42 points per game and finished the regular season on a 10-game winning streak.
"You can't make mistakes in the postseason," Bloomfield said. "Secondly, you have to play great defense and your kids have to tackle well. The third thing is you have to dominate the offensive line of scrimmage. You have to do those things to be successful in the playoffs. The teams that do that, that's who's going to be in Starkville."
Mississippi State's Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville is the site of this year's high school football state championship games after being in Jackson for the past two decades.
Despite the daunting task ahead of them, Vancleave has a few athletes of their own that could propel them to a first-round upset. One of them is Williams, who has verbally committed to Louisiana-Lafayette.
"He's really strong," Bloomfield said. "He's big. 6-feet-1, 210 pounds, runs a 4.5 40-yard dash, so it's those kinds of kids you gotta have to take you to the next level."
Williams set a goal before the season to reach 1,500 yards. He's only 140 shy of that mark heading into the playoff matchup with Florence, but he's quick to admit that none of it gets done without that offensive line.
The boys up front include Lucas Orchard, Jacob Ely (pronounced EE-lee), Caleb Dedeaux, Cal Bakker and Devin Ely.
"Over the weeks, they've bettered themselves," Williams said. "We're such a tight unit that when one messes up, we pick each other up because we're a family out here. But them as a unit, they've really picked it up over the weeks.
"We're a team that never stops fighting. Whether we're down in a game, or up, we never let up. We keep the same intensity in a big game that we play or a game that doesn't matter. It's just all about not giving up."