DUBLIN — After five seasons as a conference doormat, the West Bladen Knights put their football program back on the map of relevance with a 5-7 record — which represents more wins than the previous three seasons combined.
“It’s hard to say I’m not pleased, because these kids really accomplished a lot between last season and this one,” said first-year head coach Russell Dove. “Certainly 5-7 isn’t where we wanted to be, but it does show that we’re moving in the right direction.”
The season’s five wins included the first conference win since 2011 when the Knights beat Union 41-34, and West Bladen went on to earn two more Four County Conference wins to finish 3-4 in the new league.
Of the seven losses on the season, two were by five points or less and another was by 13 points.
“I really thought we would be able to compete,” Dove said. “I knew the kind of kids we had, so I thought we’d have success.
“And really, we were in every game except maybe three,” he added.
Coming into the season, change was again a key ingredient for the Knights — the biggest was a switch from the spread offense under Joe Salas to the run-based offense under Dove. But Dove said that was hardly an issue for his players.
“Their attitude was everything to our success, especially early,” he said. “It was evident that they were vested in what we were trying to do right from the start. They looked forward to practice … we became more balanced and we were able to get more players involved; they bought in and learned quickly.”
Dove said he can’t point to a certain player or two, or even a group of players who led the way for West Bladen’s success this season. Instead, he said it was a complete team thing.
Looking ahead, Dove said the five wins this season has already created a different atmosphere — in the school and in the community.
“They’d gotten used to hearing students and people in the community ask if they were ever going to win a game,” Dove said. “That can weigh heavily on anyone. But now, there’s a new feeling of pride in the school and there’s been more support from the community as a whole.”
Going forward, Dove thinks this season can continue to pay dividends down the road.
“We still have a lot of work to do, and a lot of that work depends on whether the returning players do what they need to do during the off-season,” he said. “There’s a good foundation and we’re going to try and build on this, but one season doesn’t signal a turnaround.”
Dove said he will lose 12 seniors from the team — including linebacker Parker Allen, linebacker Ed Owens, lineman Frankie Moultrie, lineman Zac Munson and lineman Semorrick Jessup — but a solid core of players will be returning.
“We’ll have some good skill players back, but as always there will have to be some kids who have to step up and assume some bigger roles,” he said. “We’ll have to work on getting more consistent and learn how to close out games. I think this year’s success will breed excitement in the program that should carry over.”
— Malcolm Vaught: Rushed for 744 yards and 11 touchdowns on 69 carries; had 17 pass receptions for 216 yards and six touchdowns; led the team with 108 points.
— De’quan Lennon: Rushed for 680 yards and eight touchdowns on 62 carries during an injury-riddles season.
— Malique McDowell: Rushed for 782 yards and five touchdowns on 123 carries.
— Kesean Sutton: Rushed for 380 yards and four touchdowns on 42 carries.
— Colby Lewis: Was 42-for-80 through the air for 611 yards and eight touchdowns; rushed for 356 yards and five touchdowns on 97 carries.
— Colby McLean: Made 19-of-27 point-after attempts; was 1-for-1 on fields goals (24 yards).
— Ed Owens: Made 85 solo tackles and assisted on 49 others; had nine tackles for a loss and three fumble recoveries.
— Parker Allen: Made 78 solo tackles and assisted on 45 others; had nine tackles for loss, three sacks, four fumble recoveries and four caused fumbles; returned one takeaway for a touchdown.
— Stefan McDonald: Had four interceptions.
— Frankie Moultrie: Had three sacks.