At the beginning of the season, Bulloch Adademy’s football team set 15 goals for themselves. Among those goals were to win the region championship, host a playoff game and to practice on Thanksgiving.
On Friday, they checked off “host a playoff game” and with that they get to mark off another goal accomplished as they’ll be practicing on Thanksgiving as they prepare for the semifinals.
The undefeated Gators rolled past George Walton Academy to advance to the final four of the GIAA AAAA playoffs with a 35-0 win at Gator Alley behind a punishing defense and a ground attack that ran for more than 450 yards on the night.
Led once again by a defense that only gave up 85 points over 10 regular season games, the Gators held the Bulldogs to under 230 total yards as the Bulldogs didn’t advance to the red zone until the game was well in hand.
The Gators offense, meanwhile, came out firing on all cylinders, scoring on their first three possessions to go ahead 21-0 and rolled on from there, adding two second half touchdowns to put the game away.
Bulloch Academy Head Coach Aaron Phillps was quick to credit his defensive coaching staff with implementing a game plan that would take advantage of the strengths of the Gators.
“We felt pretty good about the match up of our guys up front. We’re pretty good up front,” he said. “Our nasty guys, our big guys up front do a good job. We run well on the edge. Our linebackers read guards really well and plug and play.”
Bulloch Academy received the opening kickoff and after a couple of penalties backed them up to their own 24, they proceeded to march down the field behind the powerful running of quarterback Ben Aaron, who picked up 34 yards on a fourth-and-2. Three plays later, Aaron would sneak in from two yards out to give the Gators a 6-0 lead.
After a three-and-out by the BA defense, the Gators took over at their 47 and wasted little time getting down to the Bulldogs’ eight yard line in three plays. A chop block moved the Gators back to the 23, but it didn’t matter as Isaiah Smart took a pitch to the right and ran untouched to the corner of the endzone. A two-point conversion run by Aaron made it 14-0.
This time the Gators gave up a first down before stopping George Walton on a fourth down near midfield. Smart would ignite the offense again, this time with a 36 yard run down to the 7 yard line. Two plays later, Danye Garvin would take it in from five yards out. A Hunter Davis Pressley extra point extended the lead to 21-0 with 10:34 remaining in the second quarter.
Despite the score, Phillips knows there is still work to do for the Gators to achieve all the goals they’ve set out for themselves this season.
“I felt like we left three (scores) out there. I know it was 35-0, but we wanted this one over by halftime and we thought we had some opportunities to do that,” he said. “We’ve got to clean those things up.”
One area he specifically mentioned was the four penalties for an illegal chop block that were called on the Gators.
“We’ve got to figure out why they’re calling that because that’s not what we’re teaching. What we do with ‘ground and pound,’ first and 25s are hard. We were able to overcome some of them and still score, but there were a couple of scores that we left out there.”
Smart would lead the Gators with 216 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns on the night. Aaron would add 91 yards on the ground while Luke Willoughby had 78 yards on just three carries.
Garvin finished with two touchdowns and 43 yards on nine carries as the Gators ran all over the Bulldogs’ defense for 458 yards.
Garvin scored BA’s fourth touchdown of the night on the Gators’ opening drive of the second half, taking it in from four yards out to cap off 73 yard drive that was highlighted by Willoughby’s 56 yard gain.
Smart would add the final score of the night on a 35-yard run in the fourth quarter as he raced untouched to the endzone where a Bulldogs’ player pushed him well after he’d scored, earning an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Pressley added extra points after each of the second half scores for the final tally.
Phillips credited the leadership and experience of his team that includes 13 seniors and 13 juniors as being a big factor in his team’s success this season.
“Our quarterback can come over and say ‘they’re giving us this, let’s run this.’ When you start having quarterbacks and running backs that can see that and help you coach on the field, man you’re way ahead of the game,” he said.
The Gators will now prepare for Brookstone on the day after Thanksgiving. Brookstone, who won 13-10 in their game on Friday, are coached by former Georgia Southern offensive coordinator Rance Gillespie.
Phillips said it’s an honor to still be playing Thanksgiving week.
“We told our kids that it’s a privilege of having the pressure of Thanksgiving and having the logistics of that. That pressure is a privilege and that’s how we’re going to treat it. It’s an honor to be one of the four still playing and we’re going to value that and get after it next week.”