Just two years removed from Dora’s first winless season since 1974, hope was prevalent leading into the 2002 season after Wright’s Bulldogs closed the 2001 season by winning its last three region games — leaving students, faculty and fans with a sense of excitement about the team’s future.
Their excitement would not go unrewarded.
Over the next three years, the Bulldogs would go 20-1 in region play and win three consecutive championships — its first region championship three-peat in the school’s history.
This week, the Bulldogs (6-1, 5-0) are on the verge of recreating the accomplishments of a decade ago in Friday’s Class 4A, Region 4 showdown with the Jemison Panthers (5-2, 4-1), in Wright’s inaugural season of his second tenure with the program.
And similar to the same level of excitement felt 10 years ago, Wright says the anticipation leading into Friday night’s battle can be felt throughout the school, the community and his team.
“We’re right where we wanted to be at this point in this season — in position to win a region championship and clinch homefield advantage in the first round of the playoffs. I tell our guys every week that each region game we play in is the most important, but obviously with this week against Jemison, it carries extra weight because of what’s at stake,” Wright said.
“We control our own destiny — if we lose, then we have to rely on a number of factors that will decide our future, and that’s not something as a team you want to happen. We want to win this championship outright. But the kids are excited about it — it’s in the students, our coaches and our team and everyone has a very positive attitude about it. When you have something to play for, it changes the complexity of the game and we all know what’s on the line.”
Much of the Bulldogs’ success this season has come from a high-powered running game, led by a veteran offensive line and the outstanding performances of quarterback Caleb May and runningbacks Kai Thomas and Demarcus Kirk — a combination that is averaging 336 rushing yards and 36 points per game.
“Establishing a running attack against Jemison is critical. We’re more than capable of throwing the ball — as Caleb passed for over 250 yards against Bibb County — and we have great receivers who have the ability to make key plays. However, winning control of the line of scrimmage with our run game has gotten us to this point and we’ll look to do the same against Jemison. We have a mature, experienced offensive line who give it their all each week and I wouldn’t trade Caleb, Demarcus and Kai for any other backs in the state. They work hard and lead our team to success.”
The Dora defense has also made key plays this season, anchored by a large and athletic line, a tenacious linebacking corps and a dangerous secondary.
“In crucial moments, our defense has stepped up and delivered. We have guys like two of our linebackers, Cade Stone and Stonie Phillips, who play with heart and intensity — they’re symbolic of our entire defense. This week they will all have to contribute in big ways. Jemison has great runningbacks themselves, with shifty guys who can turn it up field quickly, so we’ll need to stay on our toes, but I feel that we’ll be up for the challenge.”