The Dowagiac defense is allowing its opponents just 75 yards per game rushing and 7.7 points per game scoring. The Chieftains hope to keep up that trend against Otsego as they go for an undefeated season Friday night. (Leader photo/File)

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Dowagiac after undefeated season Friday

Published 3:36pm Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The goal of the Dowagiac football team this season has been to go 1-0 each week.

Through the first eight weeks of the season, the Chieftains have accomplished that feat.

So far it has produced Dowagiac’s seventh trip to the post season in eight years and a Wolverine Conference West Division championship.

If the Chieftains can go 1-0 this week, it will bring the school its first undefeated season since 1996.

“We didn’t really talk about being undefeated,” Dowagiac coach Mike Stanger said. “We talked about being 1-0 each week. We will have time to talk about being undefeated if we can go 1-0 this week.”

Sixteen seasons ago, the Chieftains set a school record for consecutive victories by winning their first 11 games. Dowagiac was defeated by Kingsford in the Class BB state semifinals, 28-19. The Flivvers were defeated by Marshall in the championship game 14-13.

There are some similarities between the 1996 squad and the current batch of Chieftains. Dowagiac had a strong offense and a stout defense, which allowed the Chieftains to roll up some pretty impressive numbers.

Dowagiac scored 492 points for an average of 41 points per contest. On the defensive side of the ball, the Chieftains allowed its opponents 139 points for an average of 11.6 point per contest.

This season, Dowagiac is averaging 48 points per game through the first eight contests, while it’s allowing its opponents a mere 7.7 points per contest. The Chieftains’ defense is tops in southwest Michigan, while the offense currently ranks second in points scored.

Dowagiac, ranked No. 5 in Division 5 in the latest Associated Press poll, has come close to having an undefeated season since 1996.

The 1997, 2009 and 2011 Chieftain squads were all 8-1 in the regular season.

Since Dowagiac last went undefeated in the regular season, the Chieftains have won 103 games.

There is only one common opponent on the schedule from the 1996 season and that is Three Rivers. Dowagiac defeated the Wildcats 27-21 in the opening round of the playoffs in 1996. This season the Chieftains held off the Wildcats 31-28 in a West Division match-up.

Dowagiac was an independent 16 seasons ago. It still played Cassopolis, Lakeshore and Coloma during the regular season, but also had games against Brooklyn Columbia Central, South Bend LaSalle, Grand Rapids Christian, Bowling Green (Ohio), Detroit Country Day and Niles.

The Chieftains wrapped up the regular season with 52-0 and 63-0 wins over the Yellowjackets and Vikings respectively.

Standing in the way of Dowagiac going undefeated this season is Otsego.

The Bulldogs are currently 6-2 having defeated Edwardsburg (20-12), South Haven (61-20), Berrien Springs (14-13), Comstock (48-14), Allegan (42-20) and Vicksburg (37-23).

The Chieftains also defeated everyone with the exception of Allegan, which it did not play. Of the Bulldogs’ two losses, one was to Plainwell, which Dowagiac defeated 30-13.

Making this match-up in Week 9 more intriguing is the fact that these two teams could quite possibly meet again in the opening round of the playoffs next week.

Unlike last season when the Chieftains defeated Otsego 15-14 in a game that took two days to complete due to weather, the Bulldogs are more of a running team this season.

They are led by Brandan Campbell.

“They have a very strong running back in Campbell,” Stanger said. “They run Lakeshore’s ‘pistol’ offense, but they don’t change the formation of it as much. They are a well-coached team that has made the playoffs the last three years.”

Stanger will count on his defense to stop Campbell and the ground game. He was limited to just 40 yards on 10 carries last week by Paw Paw in its 46-23 win over the Bulldogs.

So far this season, the Chieftain defense has allowed its eight opponents just 606 yards on the ground (75 yards per game) and 842 passing yards (105 yards per game).

The Chieftain defense is led by linebacker D.J. Hunt (65 tackles), defensive back Shane Bevins (56), linebacker Brett Scanlon (50), defensive end Carl Grant (46) and defensive back Derek Stark (43).

Dowagiac has forced 21 turnovers through eight games — 11 fumbles and 10 interceptions.

Turnovers, according to Stanger, will be another key Friday night.

So far this season, the Chieftains have committed just nine turnovers for a plus-12 turnover ratio.

“We must stop their run,” Stanger said. “They are a little bit like Edwardsburg without all the deception. We have to play disciplined defense again and not allow the big plays.”

Otsego will play basically a 6-2 defensive alignment according to Stanger.

“They really flow well to the football.”

Another key for success for Dowagiac again this week will be the leg of Scanlon.

The senior placekicker has had 47 of his 54 kickoffs reach the end zone for a touchback. He is also averaging 44.2 yards per punt.

“We can’t turn the ball over and we have to use Brett’s leg to make them go 80 yards each time,” Stanger said.

Kickoff for the final regular season game is set for 7 p.m. at Chris Taylor-Alumni Field.

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