Dublin enters District 4-2A Division I play with confidence and momentum thanks to its first three-game win streak in seven years.
The Lions host Merkel in its league opener at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Memorial Stadium. Merkel beat Dublin 63-7 last season.
"They're still a good team, a very well coached team. They're very fundamental and sound in what they do," third-year Dublin head coach Bob Cervetto said of Merkel. "Keith Mullins has been the coach there for about 10 or 11 years now, and he's an outstanding coach and a great person. He's had them in the playoffs about six straight years.
"I'm sure they're going to come in here with the attitude that they can get their first district win, but we're on a mission," Cervetto added. "They're going to get our best shot."
That's something Millsap, Santo and Valley Mills couldn't handle, as the Lions won their last three games by the combined score of 94-25. It's their first 3-1 start since 2006.
"Most of these kids we've had for three years now, and we're a more mature footbll team that handles things so much different than we handled them in the past," Cervetto said. "Our mentality is so much stronger, and the expectations are greater."
Dublin's only loss came in its season opener to Hico, which is ranked seventh in Class A Division I by TexasFootball.com and 11th by TheOldCoach.com. The Associated Press does a combined statewide 1A poll, and Hico received five votes this week.
Merkel started the season 1-3, but the Badgers have faced a tough slate. Reigning 1A Division I state champ Stamford beat them 34-20. Wall, the No. 3 team in the latest Old Coach 2A Division I poll, cruised past them 50-0, and Seminole, which reached the area round of the 2012 3A Division I playoffs, beat them 14-7.
Merkel averages 207.5 yards and 13.3 points per game. The Badgers rush for 129.5 yards per game and pass for 78 yards per contest. They have run the ball 152 times and passed it 65 times, completing just less than half their attempts.
Merkel employs two quarterbacks in Austin Bustamante and Riley Whisenhunt, who also plays defensive end. Cervetto figures Bustamante will get the majority of the snaps Friday. He is 18-37 passing for 206 yards with a pair of touchdowns and four interceptions. Bustamante is also the team's leading rusher with 182 yards on 61 trips. Whisenhunt has carried the ball 36 times for 98 yards. Their favorite targets are Will Jackson and Britton Seymore with eight receptions each.
Dublin averages 29.3 points 299.8 yards per contest. The Lions have passed the ball 100 times and rushed 76 times. They average 105.5 yards on the ground and 194.3 through the air.
Junior quarterback Brady Holleman's numbers have improved drastically over the last two weeks, as he is now 36-69 passing for 555 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception.
Dirk DeVries is the team's leading rusher and receiver. He has 24 carries for 182 yards and 14 receptions for 306 yards. Zoey Kendall also has 14 catches, totaling 243 yards.
Dublin also has mass hidden yardage on special teams, where DeVries has been a monster. The senior has returned a kick or a punt for a touchdown in every game with two of the kick returns and a punt return standing. The other was called back due to a penalty.
Dublin's defense has also been dominant of late, shutting out Millsap and Valley Mills and picking off five passes while limiting Santo to half its scoring average.
"We're just excited for the opportunity, which is different than I could say about the last two years," said Cervetto of entering district. "We feel like this year we can line up and have a little success. It's a great opportunity for the kids."
And the Lions get to do it home.
"Oh my gosh, what a great way to start district," said Cervetto. "We had inclement weather last week, but the home side was still packed. We need another big crowd Friday so we can have us a home field advantage."