Coming off a tough season-opening loss, the Bulloch Academy Gators were hoping that opening their home slate would be what they needed as they faced a perennial power Calvary Day Friday night.
Unfortunately for the Gators, a change of scenery didn’t result in a change of fortunes as Bulloch Academy (0-2) fell to the Cavaliers 28-14 in a game that Head Coach Steve Pennington saw reason to be optimistic.
“We’re seeing the capabilities of what we can do,” Pennington said following the game. “But we’ve got to be a little more consistent in controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball to sustain something both offensively and defensively.”
After both teams failed to score in the first quarter, the Cavaliers (2-0) moved away from their passing game and started to focus on their ground attack. That attack was led by freshman running back Donovan Johnson. Following a Calvary Day interception that set the Cavaliers up at the BA 35, Johnson accounted for 31 of the 35 yards on the ground, culminating with CD quarterback Jake Merklinger scoring the first of his three short rushing touchdowns on the night.
Following a Gator punt, Johnson again led the Cavalier charge with runs of 16, 12 and 17 yards as Calvary Day went 71 yards in less than two minutes, ending with another Merklinger three-yard touchdown run to put the Cavaliers’ up 14-0 heading in to halftime.
“They are a very physical football team and I thought it took a toll on us,” Pennington said. “Give Calvary Day credit. Year in and year out they are one of the top Class A private schools in the state and they are a very good football team.”
The Gators looked to get back in to the game at the start of the second half. Florida State commit Rodney Hill took a short pass from quarterback Brennan Perossa, made a defender miss and then outran the Calvary Day defense down the sideline for a 71-yard touchdown, cutting the lead to 14-6.
“We made some plays tonight,” Pennington said. “We came back out in the second half and scored right off the bat and then we played great defense and got another big turnover and made another big play.”
That big turnover was an interception by Hill late in the third quarter who was able to weave his way through the defense and just make it to the corner of the end zone for his second touchdown of the night.
In between Hill’s touchdowns, Calvary Day’s Johnson capped off a 36-yard drive with a 9-yard touchdown run to keep the Cavaliers comfortably in front.
Merklinger added a 12-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to provide the final margin of victory.
Perossa and Hill led the Gators offensively, accounting for 51 of the teams 53 rushing yards and 72 of the teams 75 passing yards on the night.
Johnson was the offensive star for Calvary Day, rushing for 211 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries, including 127 yards in the first half.
Pennington said despite the loss, there was still a lot his team could take away from the early season games against GHSA opponents.
“We could have easily let our heads down and throw in the towel,” he said. “If we can do that with teams of this caliber, that will give us come confidence that we can play tough when we get in to our league games.”
“We made the work for what they got,” Pennington said. “And that’s the kind of fight that we’ll build on from last week and this week and in preparation for the game coming up next week against Tiftarea.”