TRION, Ga. - If it's adversity that brings a sports team together, then the Trion Bulldogs might be one of the closest high school football squads around.
Heading into tonight's GHSA Class A public school quarterfinal game at Emanuel County Institute, the Bulldogs have had quite a week. They made a six-hour bus ride last Friday to Irwin County, where 11th-seeded Trion (out of 16) pulled off a 31-6 upset.
Then an outbreak of the flu hit over a third of the team, by coach Justin Brown's estimate. The attrition has seriously limited practice, and though Brown is optimistic most of the Bulldogs will be healthy enough to play tonight, he's not sure they will be properly prepared to face a 10-1 ECI team many feel is the team to beat for the state title.
"We had 30 players out today, after 20 were out Monday, so it's not letting up," Brown said Tuesday. "I think we'll get healthy, but will we be able to get them hydrated and conditioned enough to play? Even if we do, they've had virtually no reps on the game plan."
In other words, Trion's Bulldogs have ECI's Bulldogs just where they want them.
"To win Friday we'll have to play the game of our lives," said senior running back and defensive back Scotty Lively, who was still fighting the flu Wednesday night. "We've been trying to practice, and I think we'll be ready. We might not feel very well, but when the whistle blows we'll feel just fine. I'm sure we'll overcome it."
His team faces another six-hour bus ride today -- not a comfortable thought for a team fighting stomach issues -- but, if Lively's right, the trip will further unite the team for what many believe is a lost cause.
"It really is a team-building thing," Lively said. "It's nice to be with your team all day long, and I know last week it made us closer. We took our time, stopped at a high school on the way and had a walk-around practice, got something to eat and then took care of business."
Even if the Bulldogs recover in time to live up to Lively's prediction, they face an uphill battle against an ECI team that last week blasted Trion rival Gordon Lee 46-12 -- which Trion had edged 6-0. Still, Lively believes the underdog role suits his team just fine.
"It's not hurt us before," Lively said. "Last week, [Irwin County] expected a bunch of country boys to come down and take a beating. Then when we hit them in the mouth, they didn't know what to do. We won't back down, that's a guarantee."