HALLSVILLE -Bullard is no longer just happy to be in the postseason. The Panthers plan to stay awhile.
Bullard (7-3) will face Atlanta (6-4) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Hallsville's Bobcat Stadium.
The Panthers finished in second place in District 5-4A Division II, its lone league loss coming against unbeaten and defending state champion Gilmer.
For almost two decades. Bullard watched as other high school football programs enjoyed the playoffs.
Bullard finally broke through in 2011 under head coach Shannon Wilson, ending an 18-year drought. That team enjoyed a three-week run before being stopped in the regional quarterfinals. Showing it wasn't a fluke, Bullard qualified for the postseason again last year, but was stopped in the first round.
Wilson piloting Bullard into the playoffs is now beginning to be a trend with the team here for the third time in five years.
"I came from Southlake Carroll, so coming to Bullard was something new for me and a great challenge," Wilson said. "No one thought we could win here, and I felt differently. The buy-in from these kids and coaches have been great."
But after making the playoffs in 2011, the Panthers were placed in the "District of Doom" by realignment. Facing off against recent state champions Henderson, Chapel Hill, Kilgore and Gilmer, the Panthers went 4-3 in district, but fell short. A year later, Bullard regressed to finish 3-6 and 1-5 in district.
"When you go through adversity, you have two ways to go: you can fold your tent or buck up and work and we chose to buck up and work during that offseason," Wilson said.
The work paid off and Bullard was back in the playoffs, but Tatum made it a short trip in a 49-15 loss.
Despite graduation taking away some stars, with graduated quarterback Connor Mebane at the top of the list.
That meant others had to step up and take over and Bullard turned to returning all-district senior linebacker Mikah Hughes and incoming 6-4 junior tight end Major Tennison. As a sophomore, Tennison's size gave him an advantage on defenses and he finished with 20 catches for 379 yards and 5 touchdowns. This season, Tennison, a Texas commit, has 24 catches for 541 yards and a team-high seven scores.
Hughes, who will sign for Harvard in February, leads a Panthers defense that is giving up just 17.9 points per game. Bullard's strength is its run stopping. The Panthers have allowed a team to go over 100 yards just three times in 10 games.
"This group is just a very close-knit group who want to work for each other," Wilson said. "We didn't play very well in the playoffs last year. I was disappointed in our play in a big game. They came out of it and said we want to do better next year and work for it and be a better team.
The Panthers dropped their opener on the road at Groesbeck by three points. After that, Bullard's only two other loses were to Gilmer and China Spring, which is 9-1.
Bullard now attempts to get past an Atlanta team that is scoring 40 points per game and has won 4 of its last 5 games.
The winner of this game will face the winner of Groesbeck and Coldspring-Oakhurst next week in the area round.