There were several times Friday night where Bulloch Academy could have rolled over and accepted a second straight loss.
They could’ve given up after a bad snap on a punt that went out of bounds to give Tiftarea the ball on the 7 yard line and — soon after — a 12-point lead. They could’ve given up when the ensuing kickoff was recovered by the visiting Panthers.
Instead, the Gators persevered and continued to bounce back on the way to a 38-32 victory to move to 2-1 on the 2020 season.
“Our players rose above the circumstances and displayed a wonderful, competitive spirit when we needed it most,” BA head coach Steve Pennington said. “They are to be applauded because we did what we had to do in the second half and overcome the mistakes made earlier in the game.”
With a seven-point cushion courtesy of Tyler Willoughby and Rodney Hill, the defense had no answers for TA’s offense. Quarterback Dylan Harbort had plenty of time to deliver passes to primarily Jayke Sailer and was able to pick up yards on the ground with relative ease.
On the next drive, back-to-back false start penalties stalled the BA offense. Olen Anderson attempted a 47-yard field goal that was just short.
The Panthers went back to work and instead of a long, steady drive like before, they opted for a three play, 70 yard drive and a two-point conversion to take a 14-7 lead into the second quarter.
BA’s next drive was extended by a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Hill and Cam Harrison exchanged big runs before Willoughby dove into the endzone to tie the game.
Harbort continued to run the ball and find Sailer for big plays. The Gators suffered another drive-extending penalty, a facemask, to keep the ball in Harbort’s hands, who found Sailer for a 55-yard touchdown pass.
Hill took the ball 72 yards to the house to begin the next drive, but a holding call negated any advancement and the offense stalled.
As the Gators looked to punt the ball, the snap went over the head of the punter, who proceeded to kick the ball on the ground like a soccer ball. This was a penalty and it set the ball on the BA 7 yardline.
Three plays later, TA was celebrating another touchdown and a two-scorre lead.
The Panthers teed up and kicked the ball off with a squib kick. It went through the legs of a BA receiver and TA jumped on the ball to start their drive on the BA 26.
“Tiftarea kept knocking on the door,” Pennington said. “The beauty of us having a competitive spirit is we were able to overcome the mistakes.”
That competitive spirit kicked in with an interception to give the ball back to the Gators with about two minutes until halftime. After Willoughby kept hitting receivers to move down the field, Anderson went on to redeem himself and booted a field goal to make it 26-17 into halftime.
The halftime adjustments on defense worked for BA, who came out and didn’t allow any chunk plays. Carter Snipes picked off Harbort on the BA 17 to prevent any more points from the Panthers.
Two plays later, Willoughby found Hill for a screen pass. Hill juked a few Panthers before striding 87 yards to the endzone.
TA’s next drive was stopped by a Malone Cason interception to set up the Gators on their own 27 yard line. Harrison picked up a few yards before WIlloughby hit Hill for a 56-yard score.
The Panthers responded with a three-and-out. Less than a minute of a game time later, Hill was streaking down for his fourth touchdown of the night.
TA threatened with an onside kick in the last two minutes, but BA recovered it to end the game.
“We beat a pretty good football team, despite not matching up well with them,” Pennington said.
Hill led the game with 332 total yards and four scores. Willoughby finished 9-for-10 and three passing touchdowns as well as another score on the ground.
Pennington said that if those two continue to play at a high level, the Gators can go far.
“With (Rodney Hill’s) ability, it gives our players confidence in knowing that if the game is close, we still have a chance,” Pennington said. “If you put that talent behind a line that’s continuing to get better, good things are going to happen.”