STREAK BROKEN: Natchez High readies for playoff game for first time since 2010

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, November 10, 2015

NATCHEZ — The wait is over. For the first time since 2010, the Natchez High Bulldogs will be playing postseason football.

“It feels good,” first-year Natchez head coach Henry Garner said of ending a five-year drought. “Coach (Lance) Reed did a great job with them since they hadn’t been to the playoffs since ’97. Coach Reed got them back up and they went to the playoffs several years. But they went back down a little after that, but now, by the grace of God, we are back up a bit, trying to turn the corner.”

That 2010 team, led by Reed, went 9-3 and lost in the first round of the playoffs. The Bulldogs had also been to the playoffs the previous three seasons.

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But even with postseason play escaping the Bulldogs in recent years, Garner didn’t doubt Natchez could find its way back.

“I saw playoff potential,” he said. “I always thought our guys had it in them because I’ve known them since middle school, and knew that if they played to their full potential, they could get there.”

For one group of Bulldogs, extending the season has an especially sweet taste.

“Making the playoffs was very important,” senior Malik Byrd said. “I wanted to reach the postseason so I could help bring the winning tradition back to Natchez.”

Fellow senior Travez Lyles was also hoping to silence some of the critics.

“We finally proved everybody wrong,” he said. “It felt good to do it. Everybody was doubting us, but we proved them wrong.”

Garner pinpointed the accomplishment as something the senior class will hold onto for the rest of their lives.

“I told the underclassmen to let the seniors play as long as they can, as many games as possible,” Garner said. “Because this is something they won’t ever forget. It is big for any senior.”

The Bulldogs have a tough test ahead, going on the road as a No. 4 seed to take on a No. 1 seed, but come playoff time, Garner said anything can happen.

“It is a brand new season now,” he said. “It is win or go home. You have to play your best ball. Everybody has the same thing at stake and records are thrown out the door. On any given day, someone can rise to the top that you might not have thought was going to, and I really think we can do it.”

For both Byrd and Lyles the opportunity to extend their high school career and make a deep run in the playoffs is something they hope to achieve.

“If we could do that, I would be at a loss for words,” Lyles said.

“It’ll mean a lot,” Byrd added. “Knowing that we came in as a No. 4 seed and being able to go far knocking off higher seeds. That would be special.”

The Bulldogs open the first round of the MHSAA 5A playoffs Friday on the road at Pearl River Central.