It’s hard not to notice Carmi-White County’s fast 2-0 start to begin the 2021 high school football season after finishing winless in six games last spring.
The Bulldogs have rolled to back-to-back wins over conference rival Hamilton County (16-14) and non-conference foe West Frankfort (46-13) through two weeks. They sit atop the BDC standings with Fairfield (2-0, 2-0) and first-year conference member Flora (2-0, 2-0).
Fairfield is no surprise considering the program is riding the hottest win streak in Southern Illinois at 37 straight conference wins. Flora had also received rave reviews from other BDC schools when the Wolves left the Little Illini Conference to replace Chester — now competing in the Cahokia Conference.
In early August, I wrote season previews for every team in the BDC. Carmi head coach Kurt Simon was optimistic for the upcoming season knowing his young team had gained varsity experience during a shortened season last spring impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think we played with six sophomores and one freshman in our final game,” Simon told me in early August. The Bulldogs were nearly shut out in their Week 6 matchup against Hamilton County last April, 28-6, but the program resurrected itself nearly four months later with a Week 1 victory over the Foxes on Aug. 27.
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The secret formula for Carmi has been utilizing the run out of its Wing-T formation. Last week against West Frankfort, the Bulldogs were carried by junior running back Isaac King and senior running back Kit Harris. The tandem combined for just under 400 rushing yards (399) and five touchdowns; King did most of the heavy lifting with 285 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries while Harris also went over the century mark (114) with two scores on nine carries.
There’s a reason King is earning votes for Player of the Week on the Section 618 website. The junior has 52 carries through two weeks for 393 yards and four touchdowns. He’ll get a shot against Sesser-Valier/Waltonville (1-1) in Week 3 before Carmi goes on the road for a two-game stretch against Christopher-Ziegler Royalton (0-2) and Fairfield — cue the ominous background music.
There’s a chance Carmi holds a 4-0 record going into their Week 5 matchup against the Mules — a team they lost against in a 36-0 rout last spring.
But in order to get there, the Bulldogs have to take care of business against the Red Devils this week and Bearcats next week. The team is already on pace to outperform its scoring output from a season ago (44 PF) with 62 points through two games, and has improved on defense allowing a combined 27 points through two weeks after opposing offenses averaged 29 points per game last season.
A ground and pound attack matches the physicality and toughness Simon said he wanted to see from his players before the season. The offense will face tougher challenges ahead against scoring threats like Fairfield, Flora and Johnston City with returning conference MVP Austin Brown, but maybe it’s time to put some respect on Carmi’s name.
The Bulldogs are relying on senior quarterback Brody Atteberry this season, who is a converted wide receiver and tight end, but possesses the leadership skills Simon needs running the huddle. It’s rare to label a team that’s clicking on all cylinders as an underdog, but it’s still a waiting game to learn if Carmi can maintain success in 2021.
But perhaps an upset against one of the top BDC teams is brewing considering Carmi’s ability to control the clock using the ground game. In his 26th season coaching the Bulldogs, Simon’s club has a chance to finish with more wins than losses for the first time since 2017.
BRADEN FOGAL covers prep sports for The Southern Illinoisan. He can be reached at email@example.com or by calling 618-351-5118.