Down three of their best players, BA succumbed their worst loss of the season in what was the biggest game of the season.
Even without leading rusher Jake Mock, two-way starter Brandon Merrill and defensive starter Jake Nelson — the 46-14 evisceration to Pinewood (5-4) was tough to see coming. BA had been allowing just 11.1 points per game in GISA play, but Friday night Pinewood blew up the staunch BA defense for 453 yards at 9.8 yards a pop.
“We picked the wrong time to be injured,” said head coach Terrence Hennessey. “But I’m proud of the way our guys played. We never laid down in the second half when we totally could.”
The loss stands as BA’s worst since Sept. 26, 2014 when the Gators fell to the then state champions Westfield 55-14.
After going up 46-7 in the third quarter, officials called for a running clock and allowed the game to end somewhat mercifully. BA’s saving grace was on their final drive, where the Gators drove 67 yards in 10 plays with Jad Street finishing off the drive on two runs for the score.
If anything can be said for the Gators, it’s that they at least never gave up despite being down 39 at some points in the game that cost them not only the region championship — but a home playoff game as well.
“There’s no reason we should have lost to that team that bad,” said quarterback Don Aaron. “We need to come back hungry next week.”
With the loss, BA falls to the four seed in their region and will be forced on the road to face undefeated Heritage in the first round of the GISA playoffs.
Friday’s game started south for BA just three plays into the game. Billy Tillman’s first carry was stripped by Matthew Floyd and the ball bounced right into the hands of Jake Woolard who ran untouched to the end zone.
“Billy broke his hand on that play,” Hennessey said. “But he kept begging me to get back into the game despite being hurt. That’s the kind of kids we have on this team.”
The next drive BA looked to have shaken off the fumble, driving 43 yards down to the Pinewood 32 on just eight plays. But the offense stalled, forcing a 4th-and-9 where Aaron’s throw to his brother Will was picked off down the field by Woolard and returned to the Pinewood 30.
Pinewood turned around and drove 70 yards, 46 on the ground, on eight plays to go up 13-0 in front of a stunned home crowd at Gator Alley.
After a BA punt, Pinewood drove another 80 yards on 10 plays for their third score on just two drives. Fifty of the yards came on seven runs, which would become a recurring theme on the night for Pinewood.
BA would finally respond in the second quarter down 19-0. Aaron went 4-6 for 59 yards and capped it off with a two-yard touchdown pass to Davis Childs to make the game respectable again, only down now 19-7.
“This is really game ten that Don’s played quarterback in on the varsity level,” Hennessey said. “He’s going to continue to get better and I was happy for him.”
But that’s as much success as BA would have in the first half. Pinewood scored on their next two drives which consisted of just nine combined plays for a whopping 132 yards. The rushing combo of Kaleb Shuman and Garlon Rogers combined for 201 yards on just 17 carries and four touchdowns in the first half.
“We really just got beat up front,” Childs said. “We made them look better than they really were. They had holes the sizes of trucks to drive through.”
BA looked to have some semblance of progress at the end of the first half. Aaron completed three straight passes to Anderson to move the Gators up from their own 20 to their own 42.
Then on a crucial 4th-and-four, Aaron found Tyce Lovett in the flat who would rumble down to the Pinewood 40 with 22 seconds left. But once again the BA offense would stall, giving up back-to-back sacks and fumbling the ball away on the latter for their third turnover of the first half.
“They definitely brought the heat all night,” Aaron said. “But I need to be able to handle that.”
In all, BA would have four turnovers in just 48 plays. The Gators averaged 5.8 yards a play, which is normally good enough to win most games you’re not allow the other team to run at 9.8. BA ran the ball at a 6.9 yard clip, but too many incompletions forcing long down-and-distances and kept BA from carrying the ball more than 15 times.
BA was 1-9 on third down conversions.
Offensively, receivers Anderson and Childs stood out. Childs caught five of his six targets for 61 yards, three first downs and a touchdown. Anderson caught six of his nine targets for 68 yards and five first downs.
On defense, GC Kimbrell had seven tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and half a sack from the defensive tackle position.
“We had a lot of mental errors to correct,” Hennessey said. “We need to get healthy and ready to get back to work on Monday.”
BA (5-3-1) will hit the road next week to face the aforementioned Heritage in the first round of the GISA playoffs at 7:30 p.m.