Thursday will be an historic day for flag football in Bulloch County as either the Southeast Bulloch Yellow Jackets or Portal Panthers will walk away with their first flag football championship in school history.
The Yellow Jackets and Panthers secured themselves of the battle of Bulloch County with victories this week in the GHSA state semifinals. The Jackets took out defending state champs Calvary Day 12-0 Tuesday in Savannah, while the Panthers came back to defeat Pacelli 12-6 in overtime Monday night in Atlanta.
“It’s exciting to get to this spot and the girl’s put in so much hard work,” said Southeast Bulloch coach Maci Cochran. “It’s going to be fun to match up against Portal so at least one school in Bulloch County will bring home the title. We are hoping it is us but we know they are a good team who has been here before.”
The Panthers advanced to the state championship in their first year of playing last season and after falling short are grateful to get another chance.
“We started out kind of slow as we had to wait on so many players to finish softball season but we started clicking a few weeks ago,” said Portal coach Jay Reddick. “It’s definitely great for Bulloch County to have two teams playing in the state championship and we are so happy to be one of them.”
The road to Atlanta and the state title game for the Southeast Bulloch Yellow Jackets (18-0, 5-0) was paved by their defense. The Jackets have not allowed a single team into the end zone in their four playoff games and in 18 games the Jackets have only allowed 10 touchdowns the entire season.
“Our defense has won a lot of games for us this year and they did it again Tuesday night against Calvary,” said Cochran. “We have so many girls who can go in there and make plays and a lot of really good athletes who have picked up flag football so quickly.”
For the Panthers (9-1, (4-1) the road to the title game has been paved with some nail biters and games in which Portal either had to come from behind, or hang on at the end to win. Five of the Panther’s nine wins were decided by a touchdown or less including their semifinal matchup with Pacelli where they scored with 10 seconds left in the game to send it into overtime.
“These girls have found a way to get it done and they never quit,” said Reddick. “There is no quit in them and I think much of that comes back to making our run to the state championship game last season. They know what it takes to get here and they were not going to let it slip though their fingers.”
The two teams met earlier this year with Southeast Bulloch handing the Panthers their only loss of the season 14-0. While the two teams have only met once they are all quite familiar with each other including the coaching staffs who go back to their days in college at Georgia Southern playing flag football against each other,
"Georgia Southern intramurals was a hotbed for great flag football when we all played,” said SEB assistant coach Nick Cochran. “Marci and myself Jay Reddick and his assistant Michael Holsonback as well as coach Bob Massee over at Statesboro High. We were all a part of the big impact GSU intramurals had on the national level at college intramural flag football. Now hopefully we will have a huge impact on how flag football is played in the state of Georgia.”
Reddick remembers the days of playing flag football as well and credits much of the success at SEB this season to the knowledge of their coaches as well as the talent on the field.
“We all met at Georgia Southern when we were playing,” said Reddick. “We traveled to the college, state and national flag football tournaments together and cheered each other’s team on. Nick and Marci know the game well and have done a great job teaching it to their girls.”
Cochran actually credits Reddick with being a major force in both teams making it to the title game.
“The GHSA started flag football as a sanctioned sport last year,” said Cochran. “If it wasn't for the push Jay Reddick had on Bulloch County Schools to start the sport, and then the success they had last year I don't know if SEB would have a team right now.”
As for the players, while they may not go back as far as the coaching staff’s do, they are quite familiar with each other and are looking forward to playing on Thursday.
“It is going to be super fun because we know so many of the girls at Portal,” said SEB senior Alana Barnard. “I feel like it will be a little more relaxed game because we all know each other so well.”
“We have all grown up playing with and against each other in many sports,” said Portal senior Blair Brannen. “We have all been playing together through rec ball, travel ball and now against each other in the state championship. It’s going to be a dog fight for sure.”
“We know each other outside of just playing flag football and we are friend,” said SEB junior Delanie Thames. “We are all competitors so we are all going in there wanting to win, but if it can’t be us, I’d be happy if it was them if they were to win.”
“It really makes a statement about Bulloch County having both Portal and SEB in the big game,” said Portal junior Emma Yates. “Our team has put in the work all year for this moment, and we can’t wait.”
“It is absolutely crazy to think that the top two teams in the state are both from Bulloch County,” said Portal junior Jozie Motes. “Many of our girls, including myself, have grown up with some of the Southeast Bulloch girls and it’s exciting to see some familiar Bulloch County faces all the way in Atlanta. This is definitely going to be an emotionally filled game.”
The Jackets and the Panthers are set to square off Thursday at 11:00 a.m. at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta. The game is being carried live on GPTV.