Bowling Green High School football will play in the playoffs on Friday for the first time since 2018.
They are 5-1 on the season and coming off a huge win over now 4-2 Napoleon two weeks ago. While the Bobcats did have to go through a bye last week, head coach Dirk Conner is hoping that they can carry the momentum through that bye.
“There’s positives and negatives to having a bye and we tried to balance out the best of both of those worlds. We practiced last week pretty much like it was business as usual. We did not focus on an opponent. We just focused in on a lot of little things that a lot of times you don’t get the chance to focus on throughout the course of the season when you are just constantly preparing for an opponent,” he said.
Conner said a bye isn’t ideal, but it can be helpful.
“I prefer to keep the rhythm going and keep things going so we would have really liked to play this week but it wasn’t worth going out and trying to schedule a regular season opponent … and taking a risk of injury, it just wasn’t worth it,” he said. “There’s good and bad but at the end of the day I’m glad that we had it.”
The Bobcats had the bye week to prepare for a now 1-6 Defiance. The team able to notch their first win of the season in week one of the playoffs against Bay. It is a Bulldogs squad that goes deeper than what the record shows, Conner said.
“They are a really hard playing, physical, attacking football team and I was really impressed with what I saw. If you go back and look at the box scores, they’ve been just steadily getting better and better and better,” he said.
The Bulldogs like to run the ball, totalling 49 carries for 255 yards on the ground in their playoff win last week. They are able to run the ball in multiple different ways, too, ways that the Bobcats actually are slightly familiar with.
“It’s kind of fun as far as, they don’t do similar stuff as far as schematics, but they run similar types of formations and motions and that type of thing. This is something that our defense saw a lot of during August. It’s been fun to go through and make the adjustments and stuff as if we were kind of running our stuff against them,” Conner said.
It is familiar because Bowling Green is no slouch either when it comes to running the ball. The Bobcats have rushed the ball 243 times for 1,617 yards and 18 touchdowns. Quarterback Eli Brown that leads the charge.
He accounts for more than half of that total ,with 932 yards on 109 carries and nine touchdowns. While he has torn up his opponents all season, Brown is now entering into uncharted territory in his first playoff game. Conner doesn’t want him to change anything.
“Just nothing special, just be who you are. Just be steady and run the show and take what the defense is giving you. Obviously as special as he is we have to gameplan some things to just put the ball in his hands and let him do his thing,” he said. “Eli be Eli — protect the ball and make good decisions and just go and do what he does.”
The other key guys in the offense are Caden Seither and Ryan Jackson. Seither is second on the team in rushing with 59 carries for 258 yards and three touchdowns. Jackson leads the team in receiving with 11 catches for 204 yards and three receiving touchdowns.
“It is really fun going into each week where we don’t feel like we have to force feed or change or adapt our stuff just so we can get one kid the ball. At any given time, no matter who the five skill guys are around Eli, we feel like we can call our entire playbook offense and put the ball in any of their hands,” Conner said.
The offensive line has played a big part as well. They had one returning starter and struggled early in the season, but Conner is proud of where they are now.
“What I’ve been really impressed with, with that group has been their ability to look at their mistakes during film on Saturdays and really be willing to correct those things. They’ve worked really hard and accountability is one of my favorite things among teenage kids,” he said.
On defense, the Bobcats have improved mightily. They have held their opponents to less than 14 points in four of the six games that they have played this season. Last year’s defense only did that once in 12 games.
They are led by a solid linebacking core of Mason West, Christian Kuhlwein and Seither. The secondary is led by offensive force and also safety Jackson.
“Ryan is just constantly finding the football wherever he’s at and being there. He’s starting to get some love on offense in the media but he shows up in flashes on defense too,” Conner said.
On the defensive line, Conner notes that it is very similar to that of the offensive line, and they are learning and growing everyday.
“Very similar on offense was how good we could get was going to depend on the progress of our defensive line. They are still making progress, they are still figuring out the game speed of football and still correcting some fundamentals and making some mistakes from early in the season that shouldn’t be there, but they’re becoming more and more consistent each and every week and they are gaining a deeper understanding of what needs to get done,” he said.
This Bowling Green team is set up where they are this season because of a mentality. One that focuses on the team first.
“They are incredibly unselfish kids, they don’t care if they are getting the ball or someone else is getting the ball, they all block for each other which is part of the reason we are as successful as we are, you gotta have that mentality,” Conner said.
(This story has been corrected to say the Bobcats were last in the playoffs in 2018.)