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Bulldog football is back.

The much-maligned Mission Bulldogs grinded out a 40-13 win over Thompson Falls in front of a large homecoming crowd Friday night to win their first conference game since 2006 and their first homecoming since 2005, beat the Bluehawks for the first time in nine years and serve warning to everybody that they better take the  Bulldogs serious.

Not bad for a team picked to finish dead last in their conference.

“Churning butter”, “grinding salt”, or “Novacain” called the Bulldog offense what you will, but they threw style points out the window Friday night letting the Bluehawks know what they were going to do every play and dared them to stop them.

Never has the simple had such exquisite results.

With 11 Bluehawks in the box the entire second half trying to stop the run, playing with a chip on their shoulders, the Bulldogs’ offensive line continued to make holes for the running backs and when they didn’t the backs made sure to lower their shoulders and fall forward. The Bulldogs finished with 353 yards on the ground, with each yard in the second half seemingly breaking the will of the Bluehawks and exorcising the demons that have haunted the Bulldogs the past couple of losing seasons.

Going into halftime with only a 13-7 lead, the Bulldogs completely controlled the second half, running 40 plays from scrimmage compared to Thompson Falls’ 16 to runaway with a conference victory – something that none of the Bulldogs had ever experienced.

“It’s probably the greatest feeling of my life,” Zane Foster, the Bulldog 320-pound center, said while having to fight back tears. 

As the only senior on the offensive line, Foster has first-hand experience of the recent lean years at Mission – being on the winning side only three times prior to this season, so when the Bulldogs were picked to finish dead last by all the other coaches in the conference, of course he took it personal, but he said that’s not what’s winning games for the 3-1 Bulldogs.

“The thing that helps us out is we believe that nobody is bigger than the team. We just work well together. If we work well together, we’re going to win games. That’s all we got to do is believe,” Foster said. “We just work well together we have a family-type deal,” he added.

Foster said it’s the family-type deal that enabled the Bulldogs to run the ball, even with the Bluehawks stacking the box. 

“We just communicate on the line and the backs run hard. We just trust one another. It goes back to the family,” Foster said.

With only a six-point lead, the Bulldogs opened the second half with a 75-yard, 15-play drive, which ended with quarterback Dylan Evans punching it in from 3 yards out to give the Bulldogs a 19-7 lead. On the team-defining drive that ate up nearly seven minutes, the Bulldogs converted three third downs and one fourth down. On a fourth-and-seven Austin Durglo floated a 15-yard pass to Evans near the Bluehawks’ 20-yard line. It was their only completion in the second half.

The Bulldogs put the game away on their opening drive of the fourth quarter, when Scotty Gilleard, who finished with 95 yards on 15 carries, burst up the middle for a 40-yard touchdown on a dive right – it was the third straight time they had called the play. Gilleard’s touchdown gave the Bulldogs a 26-7 lead with just less than nine minutes to play, but more importantly it broke the Bluehawks’ spirit.

“I felt them starting to kind of lay down, dying almost, at the end,” Foster said. “It felt good. I’m not going to lie, it felt great.”

The Bulldogs added two more touchdowns on runs from Austin Durglo and freshman backup Ryce Hegwood and a safety on a chop block in the end zone. The celebration on the sideline grew with each passing minute and the Bulldogs got a chance to do something they haven’t got to do very often – have fun.

“This is the greatest game ever,” Evans told assistant coach Jim Durglo after Gilleard streaked in from the 40. The Bulldogs started dancing to “Cotton Eye Joe,” when Durglo scored from the 1 to make it 32-7 with 6:35 left to play.

“It’s huge. We haven’t beaten them in nine years and to come out and beat them with five sophomores, four juniors and three seniors that’s huge for us,” said a still-ecstatic Mission coach Peter Hamilton minutes after he made sure that “Welcome to Jungle” blared from the speakers as the game ended. “It’s huge for the program, it’s huge for the kids. We were picked last in our conference by every coach in our conference.”

Hamilton couldn’t explain how the Bulldogs were able to run the ball so effectively in the second half.

“I don’t know,” Hamilton said laughing. “We just do it. If you believe in it and get your kids to believe in it, you’re going to be successful.”

When told the discrepancies between the number of the team’s play in the second half, Hamilton started laughing.

“That’s the Novocain, that’s the churning butter I’m telling you about,” Hamilton said, while motioning like he was churning butter. ‘It’s just churning butter, grinding salt, it’s like Novocain, we’re going to run it until we numb you to death.”

While the Bluehawk defenders may have been numb, the Bulldog running backs certainly weren’t. Both Chris McKay, who carried the ball 20 times, and Evans were slow getting up, but both went back to the huddle and didn’t miss a play. McKay led the Bulldogs with 108 yards. It was his third game in a row that he has rushed for 100 yards.

“Tough kids, extremely tough kids. We have some extremely tough kids,” Hamilton said. 

The Bulldogs aren’t just physically tough either, according to Hamilton.

“Our mental toughness this year compared to last year is way different, so that’s huge,” Hamilton said.

Last year, the Bulldogs made mistakes to lose games, this year they’re capitalizing on other team’s mistakes to win games. They didn’t have to wait long to capitalize on the Thompson Falls’ first mistake. 

After the Bluehawks botched a snap on a punt on their first possession, Durglo ran it in from the 19 on the Bulldogs’ first play from scrimmage. Durglo finished with 81 yards on 15 carries with two touchdowns.

On the Bulldogs’ next possession, Evans capped a 78-yard, 13-play drive with a 1-yard  TD run to give the Bulldogs a 13-0 lead with 3:11 left to play in the first quarter.

The Bluehawks got back in the game by throwing the ball, scoring on a 19-yard pass with 11:11 to play in the half to make it 13-7. The Bluehawks threw for 72 yards in the second quarter.

The Bulldogs adjusted their defense in the locker room and the Bluehawks didn’t complete a pass in the second half until the Bulldogs had their junior varsity in. Josh Hojem connected with Ross Dalbv for a 41-yard touchdown to make in 40-13 with less than two minutes to play.

Mission 40, Thompson Falls 13
T. Falls 0 7 0 6– 13
Mission 13 0 6 21– 40

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