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November 19, 2013

Playoff victory big boost for Bulldogs

EMPIRE — After waiting 22 years to sip postseason success, Empire sprang to life Friday night like a group of wandering desert nomads who'd spotted a water fountain.

And Crescent just happened to be in the way.

Empire ran past, through, and over the Tigers, 46-13, Friday at Ric Johnson Memorial Field on the way to tasting postseason sweetness for the first time since 1991 — a year in which George H.W. Bush occupied the White House, gas sold for $1.12 a gallon, and a little known comic named Jerry Seinfield debuted a show mostly about nothing.

Empire went to Wayne that year, won the first round playoff game there, 7-0, in overtime, and then waited another 22 years for Friday night.

After watching his club gain 490 yards rushing, dominate time of possession, and score in all three phases, a jubilient Tony Roberts dried off the obligatory Gatorade victory bath and said, “It's been a long time for the Empire Bulldogs, but it's finally here.

“It's a big deal for us. We've talked about it for five years — it's all we've talked about.”

The accent started with Roberts' arrival five years ago. In his second season, the Bulldogs finished fourth in their district and lost a first round playoff game to Carnegie.

In the next two seasons, the Bulldogs positioned themselves to earn a home playoff game but couldn't get past district foes Ringling and Velma-Alma. They finished third in the district and lost first-round playoff games at Hollis and Crescent in respective years.

The Bulldogs lost to Hollis, 48-13, in the first round in 2011 and fell to Crescent, 28-25, last November. The win Friday moved Empire to 9-2, its best record since the 1989 team finished 14-1.

Empire experienced its big breakthrough two weeks ago. The Bulldogs knocked off Velma-Alma for the first time in 17 years and secured their first home playoff game since 1989, when Empire advanced to the Class A state championship game.

The Bulldogs used homefield advantage and the opportunity to make history as motivation, said senior lineman David Couch. It was like they unleashed 22 years of frustration for everyone, he said.

“I know I felt that way,” said Couch, who helped dominate the line of scrimmage with fellow linemen Zach Rivera, Anthony Gonzalez, Jacob Wilson, and Gage Pierce.

Winning a home playoff game is “something that has been our minds for awhile,” said Couch, who also recovered a fumble Friday while playing on the defensive line. “I thought we would play like this. We've had some really good practices, some really focused practices. This is the best we've played.”

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