Heading into a crucial region matchup against Frederica, Bulloch Academy head coach Steve Pennington repeated a mantra to his team all week:
"Starve distractions. Feed focus."
The Gators entered Friday's game ranked No. 2 in the state and were also coming off a full week of homecoming festivities, but the focus was there when it mattered most.
Trailing 16-13 in the dying seconds, BA quarterback Tyler Willoughby carved a pass through a sea of Frederica defenders and found Harrison Kennedy for a scoring strike with 15 seconds to play, propelling the Gators to a huge 20-16 victory.
"We got the ball around our own 35 with just over two minutes to play," Pennington said. "I looked at our sideline and our huddle and I saw a lot of quiet confidence.
"We practice our two-minutes drill all the time and it worked beautifully. We only had one timeout, but we never even had to use it as we got out of bounds and managed the clock all the way down the field."
Frederica controlled things early, kicking a pair of field goals and shutting out the Gators in the first half.
Bulloch came out with a dominant drive to begin the second half, picking up several big third down conversions before Willoughby plunged in for a touchdown. The Gators took the lead when Willoughby found Rodney Hill on a 25-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, but the Knights responded with a touchdown of their own and another field goal to pull ahead of the Gators once again.
Frederica won the state championship in 2018 and had dominated the region for several seasons, but Bulloch Academy has now notched two consecutive victories over the Knights and it is now the Gators who are expected to make a deep run in the state playoffs.
Of course, that's not registering on the Gators' radar just yet.
"Honestly, I didn't know we were ranked that high until I read it in the paper Friday morning," Pennington said. "All I know is that we've got a good group of kids who are continuing to get better. We'll shift our focus after this big win, but only to the next game next week."
Bulloch Academy will play a pair of non-reagion away games against Robert Toombs and St. Andrews in the coming weeks before capping the regular season with its annual rivalry game against Pinewood Nov. 20.