TOWNSEND – When the Townsend Bulldogs travel to fourth-ranked Manhattan on Oct. 18, the winner will walk away Southern B Division champions.

“I imagine by the time we get into next week there’s no way our kids could block it out,” Bulldogs coach Travis Rauh says of the game’s implications. “It will be a form of motivation. There’s no denying that. This week, with the bye week, we’ve pretty much just been able to focus on ourselves at this point in time.”

During the current bye week, Rauh says the team is using some of the time to revisit things they worked on early in the season as they have compiled a 5-1 record and a 4-0 mark in the Southern B Division, which includes a key 22-19 win over Jefferson two weeks ago. 

“Actually, we’ve been going back and really making sure we are assignment sound,” he explains. “Even in some of our wins over the past few weeks, we just haven’t been quite as assignment sound as we need to be. So, we kind of backtracked into the early parts of putting in our offense and defense, and made sure that we have everything locked into where those little type of mistakes won’t cost us in the long run.”

Those areas of communication will be critical when matching up against the Manhattan offensive and defensive lines, which are clearly the Tigers’ strength, according to Rauh.

“Basic things like making ‘slide’ calls on the offensive line for protection, and making sure we have the right ’backer dropping into the zone to cover for a blitz. … Things like that,” Rauh says.

The bye week comes at an ideal time for Townsend. Obviously it helps to have extra days off before the most important game of the regular season. But in this case, the Bulldogs will have a chance to nurse some of their players back to health.

“We’re actually pretty beat up right now,” Rauh says. “We’re very lucky it’s a bye week. We’re hoping to get a couple (key players) back next week. I think we had five kids sitting out – four starters – last week.”

Hunter Dobbs, Tommy Stewart, Klause Rauser and Dalton Byrd are expected to play next Friday.

The Bulldogs will likely earn a playoff bid, win or lose. They’re a close-knit unit that usually breaks on the word “family.” And Rauh points out that their ability to mesh has been impressive.

“There is kind of a gap in our age group,” Rauh says. “We have a bunch of seniors (9), we have hardly any juniors (2) and then a bunch of sophomores (14). With that gap in the age group it’s been very impressive that they’ve come together and actually played as a group, and gotten along with each other as well as they have.”

Bridging that gap takes strong leadership to hold teammates accountable. Rauh credits Byrd and Wade Leachman with taking responsibility of getting the team where they need to be for game day.

“Dalton Byrd, throughout the summer and even into this year, his attention to detail at the receiver position, he’s really acted as a leader for that group,” Rauh says. “And that’s been a real strong position group for us this year.

“Wade Leachman, running our defense in the middle linebacker position and making the calls for the O-line at center. He’s been on point pretty much all year. So he’s been a really good leader for us as well.”

The game between Townsend and Manhattan kicks off at 7 p.m. next Friday.

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Matthew Kiewiet covers high school and community sports for the Independent Record and 406mtsports.com. Email him at matthew.kiewiet@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter @IRmattkiewiet.

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