Springfield vs Pope John Paul II 2021

The Springfield High football team takes on Pope John Paul II on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021.

When the final whistle is blown on Friday night, Springfield or St. Thomas Aquinas will be in the driver’s seat in the District 10-2A race, something that isn’t a surprise to Bulldogs coach Ryan Serpas.

“This is definitely the game that we look at even before the year starts about, ‘hey, this is our big challenge this year. This is what we need to overcome,’’’ Serpas said. “If we want a chance at winning a district championship, this is the team it’s going to run through, and we know that that’s going to be St. Thomas. It always is.”

The Bulldogs (4-3, 1-0) host the Falcons (5-1, 1-0) at 7 p.m. Friday.

Springfield bounced back from a disappointing loss to St. Martin’s by rallying for a 42-34 win over Pope John Paul II to open district play last week.

Jatoris Buggage ran for 346 yards and five touchdowns, helping the Bulldogs overcome a 14-0 deficit.

Springfield football coach Ryan Serpas discusses hosting St. Thomas Aquinas on Friday.

“I don’t know if you say (we) turned the corner or it’s just we got refocused,” Serpas said. “I really thought that we were getting there, and we had reached that point, and then the week before (against St. Martin’s), we just kind of lost our focus. Hopefully by getting everybody back on the same page and understanding where we’re at, we just continue to grow and get better from that point (while) understanding every game is a different opponent and they have different strengths and weaknesses, so your game plan changes week to week too. We’re trying to get to a point not just looking at the week to week but putting ourselves in a position where we just continue to get a little bit better every time we step on the field, and that’s day to day.”

The Bulldogs have fallen behind in other games this season, but Serpas said that didn’t seem to faze the Bulldogs last week, showing a sign of the team’s growth.

“It was just the effort and the mentality,” Serpas said. “The week before last, once we kind of got down, you could tell that there was a little bit of finger pointing and stuff going on on certain things that were happening. We made an emphasis to try and correct that this week at practice and tell them that things aren’t always going to the way that you want them, but we’ve got to fight, and we’ve got to overcome. Who you’ve got next to you is who you’ve got next to you. It doesn’t matter. They’re wanting the same goals as you are, and we’ve got to work together and be a family to be able to accomplish that goal. It’s all about those kids really believing in each other, and that’s something we’re trying to do is get them to see that if we work together, we can accomplish a whole lot more than just working as individuals out there.”

St. Thomas Aquinas is coming off a 40-0 win over Northlake Christian in which the Falcons scored 27 points in the second quarter.

“We’re definitely going to have our hands full,” Serpas said. “They’ve had a really good year, have a really good defense that shut out Northlake last week, and then they’ve been doing a pretty good job of putting points up on the board as well. We’re definitely going to have our hands full on both sides of the ball.”

Serpas said one of the challenges for the Bulldogs is finding a focal point on a balanced Falcon offense.

“They’re well rounded from what I see,” Serpas said. “They have a pretty good running game. Their quarterback (Drew Milton) does get involved in the run, and then they can throw the ball around a little bit as well. The last few weeks we’ve played, it’s going into the game trying to take away that one aspect of what the team does really well. This week, it’s going to have to be us being more well rounded in what we’re doing because they’re firing hard on all cylinders …. Their running game is going well. Their passing game is going well, so it’s just going to make it that much more of a challenge for us to create some stops on Friday night. Hopefully the kids understand it and can do a great job of executing the game plan and we go out and have a couple things go our way. We create a few turnovers, who knows where we’ll sit at.”

Serpas said the Bulldogs won the turnover battle 3 to 1 last week and will likely need to get the upper hand there again Friday.

“If we could put ourselves in a very similar situation, I guess we’ll be in good shape,” Serpas said.

Serpas said the Falcons run a split four scheme on defense, and they won’t make things easy for the Bulldogs.

‘They’ve got really good linebackers, and they’re physical up front,” Serpas said. “It’s going to be a tough challenge to run the ball and do all the things like last week.”

“We’re obviously going to try to get the ball to (Buggage) as much as possible,” Serpas continued. “He’s the key that makes everything go, but we know that they’re going to be game planning to stop him, so we’ve got to have some other people step up and make plays as well. They’re a very physical group. I think we’re going to have our hands full, especially with what they do defensively. We’ve just got to go out, and we’ve got to execute.”

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