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Baby Gators no more, BA begins region play Friday
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    After a thrilling one-point win over Brentwood in Sandersville Friday night, the Bulloch Academy Gators evened their record at 3-3 with five games remaining on their schedule.
    “With the youth of our team and the schedule we’ve had so far, I’m very pleased to be 3-3,” said BA head coach Clint Morgan.
    The Gators have just three seniors on their 24-man roster and just one of those had tangible varsity experience before the beginning of the season. Eight juniors, nine sophomores and four freshmen have had to grow up in a hurry as the season progressed. Tough games with Class AAA Pinewood, Class A semifinalist Robert Toombs and top-ranked Briarwood have helped mold Morgan’s young team.
    The coach also introduced a new offensive scheme to his Gators: the triple-option.
    “The guys have welcomed it with open arms,” said Morgan. “We’ve continued to get better week to week.”
    If Friday night was any indication, the Gators are shaping into an offensive juggernaut.
    Senior tailback Trevor Darden rushed for 213 yards and two touchdowns while junior quarterback Jordan Walker added 123 yards and another score. Bulloch had a season-high 391 yards on the ground.
    In the game-winning drive, Darden carried the ball six of the 10 plays. Ironically, Darden had two third-quarter fumbles in the Brentwood red zone. But Morgan had confidence in his primary back, and that confidence paid off. Darden tied the game at 20 when, on third-and-long, he found a seam and raced 48 yards to paydirt with 2:01 remaining in the game.
    “We moved Trevor to tailback which gives him the opportunity to run using either power or finesse, both of which he possesses,” said Morgan. “Jordan runs the option offense extremely well. He makes good reads and when he runs the ball, he runs with authority.”
    For the season, Darden leads the Gator offense with 667 yards on 61 carries and has scored five times. Walker has 474 yards on 93 carries and has crossed the goal line twice. Six other Gators also have rushing yardage. Sophomore fullback David Poole is third on the team with 166 yards and two scores while freshman Matthew Sapp has 96 yards.
Bulloch has also shown an aerial attack this season with Walker completing 24-of-47 passes for 381 yards and six touchdowns.
    “We’re prepared to take whatever the defense gives us,” said Morgan. “We feel comfortable throwing the football but our primary focus is being able to run it. Our goal is to always throw the ball when we want to and not when we have to.”
    When the Gators do throw, junior Ethan Lovett and sophomore Thomas Brunson are Walker’s favorite targets. Lovett has caught nine balls for 158 yards and five scores while Brunson has eight catches for 100 yards.
    Defensively, Bulloch has, according to Morgan, a bend-but-don’t-break mentality.
    “Yardage means nothing if the other team can’t put the ball into the end zone,” he said.
    Senior linebacker James Conner turned in a 12-tackle performance against Brentwood including three tackles for loss and a key interception. Junior defensive end Drew Cheshire had his best game of the season with 11 tackles and a tackle for loss. Lovett, a defensive back, and junior defensive tackle Ben Newton had 10 tackles each. Newton also had two tackles for loss.
    Senior soccer-player-turned-football-kicker Jeremiah Masters has answered the call for the Gators, making two field goals and 16 of 18 extra points. Against Brentwood, Masters had the presence of mind to be patient while holder Walker caught and set a rolling snap. Under pressure from the War Eagle rush, the senior pounded the ball through the outstretched hands of Brentwood players and the goal’s uprights for the eventual game-winning point.
    Four of Bulloch’s final five games will be against region opponents, starting with this Friday night’s collision with the top-ranked Edmund Burke Spartans.
      “We played these first six games to get prepared for this time of the year,” said Morgan. “It’s region time and, while I’m pleased that we have played .500 ball, all records are now back to 0-0.”