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Bulldogs face playoffs before playoffs at Bethel
Oct 27, 2012 12:00 am
By ANDY REED
Cumberland faces a make-or-break round of its playoff to the NAIA playoffs Saturday as the Bulldogs face Mid-South Conference West Division-leading Bethel in McKenzie.
The Wildcats lead the league at 3-0 [5-3 for the season] after beating fellow unbeaten Faulkner 33-21 last week. The No. 20 Bulldogs, the only division team ranked in the NAIA poll and whose two remaining games are against Lindsey Wilson and Bluefield [combined 2-14 record], are 2-1, 6-2.
"We can't afford to lose this Saturday," Cumberland coach Dewayne Alexander said of the 1:30 p.m. kickoff. "Two losses, something crazy could happen, but two losses is going to take some crazy and a lot of help for anybody to [win] the conference. Most assuredly, the Western Division won't have a playoff representative if whoever wins the conference has two losses.
"This is a playoff weekend. If we can beat Bethel, Bethel has to go to Belhaven [3-1 going into Saturday's game at 3-1 Faulkner]. We've already beaten Belhaven. The Faulkner-Belhaven game, somebody is going to get their second conference loss and we're fighting to make sure we don't get our second conference loss."
Bethel and Cumberland were picked to finish first and second in the division in preseason. The Wildcats were ranked 14th in preseason with a lot of returning seniors, including 23 seniors. Longtime coach Dino Kaklas left to become defensive line coach at Eastern Illinois and was replaced by veteran assistant Chris Elliott.
"Will Massoud, their quarterback, seems like he's been there forever," Alexander said. "Darius Mann, the running back, it seems like we've played against him forever.
"They've kept some continuity. But anytime you have a change in coaches, early in the year, it took them the first couple of games to get on the same page. But they've won five of their last six ballgames. They beat Faulkner last week. Big win for Bethel; big win for all of us because it brought everybody back into the conference race."
Bethel likes to run the football.
"They are a physical football team," Alexander said. "They have a good fullback, two good tailbacks. They're averaging over 200 yards a game, rushing. They have a tall quarterback, 6-6, 6-7. He'll play-action and throw down the field. If you get up there with your safeties and start biting on the run game, they can certainly throw it down the field.
"Defensively, they give you multiple looks. They play with four down linemen, three down linemen. They're very athletic. They're going to blitz and stunt, similar to what we saw Campbellsville do. They'll bring pressure from a lot of different places."
Alexander said Cumberland is in good shape injury-wise.
"For this time of year, every team in football - pro or college or high school - has a lot of injuries," Alexander said. "But for us, knock on wood, this is the healthiest our football team you could ask for it to be."
Sports Editor Andy Reed can be reached at 444-3952, ext. 17; or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org