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Local teams shine on flag football field
Flag football
Southeast Bulloch's Dalanie Thames comes up with the ball after an acrobatic diving touchdown catch to score the first points of Thursday's Clas A-4A state championship in Atlanta. The Lady Jackets defeated Portal 20-0 to cap a perfect season in their first year of play. - photo by JOSH AUBREY/staff

The Southeast Bulloch Yellow Jackets defeated the Portal Panthers for the state Class-A-4-A state championship Thursday afternoon at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta 20-0. There were a lot of questions about how many girls’ state titles the Jackets have had in school history, but one thing is for sure Thursday marked the first flag football title in their first year of playing.

The Panthers were able to make it to the title game two straight years which is quite an accomplishment in itself. So, the question becomes how do two small rural schools in Bulloch County make it to the biggest stage in such a short period of time?

One big advantage for both teams is their coaching. Panther head coach Jay Reddick and assistant Michael Holsenback both have years of experience. While some coaches dabbled in flag football for a couple years in college, Reddick and Holsenback traveled the country playing on the biggest stages of flag football.

“We were both on staff at Georgia Southern so I played for 16 years and he played for over 20 years,” said Reddick. “Through all those years of playing you get a chance to see so many different styles and we were able to come together and decide what would be best for the talent we had at Portal. Thankfully the rules the GHSA uses are basically the same rules we played with so there wasn’t too much we had to adapt to.”

The coaching duo at Southeast Bulloch may not have logged as many hours playing as the Panther duo, but husband and wife Marci and Nick Cochran have plenty of experience as well. Marci played five years in college and Nick played for six. Nick also officiated five years of flag football and has officiated high school football and basketball since 1999.

“Marci and I have coached multiple sports on the middle and high school levels,” said Nick Cochran. “All of these experiences of playing and coaching have helped us. The officiating part really helped us this year with clock management as well. We coached most of these girls in middle school and I feel like Marci does an excellent job of building relationships.”

When Reddick found out the GHSA was going to make flag football an official sport he quickly approached athletic director Justin Chester and lobbied to get a team at Portal. A meeting was held to see what kind of interest there may be in playing flag football, and when nearly 50 girls showed up the Portal administration made the decision to field a team. 

“Things just really feel into place with us last year,” said Reddick. “We had some coaches that had a background with flag football and luckily we also had some talented athletes who came together quickly and helped us make it to the state final in our first season.”

According to Cochran if not for the success the Panthers enjoyed in the 2020 season Southeast Bulloch may not have fielded a team at all, let alone won a state title this week


“All the credit goes to Jay Reddick in my opinion,” said Cochran. “If he doesn’t lobby to get flag football at Portal, we probably don’t have a team at SEB. If they go 0-8 or 2-6 our administration probably doesn’t pursue it and things would have just fizzled out. Portal making the state championship last year is definitely why we decided to start flag football.”

Having knowledgeable coaches really helps, but if you don’t have talent neither team would have had the success they have enjoyed. Reddick and Cochran are both happy they have multi-sport athletes participating and the cooperation of the other coaches they play for to enable them to put together such talented rosters.

“At Portal most of our athletes play different sports,” said Reddick. “We were fortunate that a few of them had played a little football with their brothers or families and many had improved hand-eye coordination from playing other sports most of their lives.”

“I feel like the majority of the smaller school particularly in south Georgia encourage their girls to play multiple sports,” said Marci Cochran. “We get to choose the best athletes in our school to compete, whereas up in Atlanta and in larger schools they try to have their girls specialize.”

While they awaited the softball and volleyball team players to join the team the Yellow Jackets reeled off some big wins against Lakeside and Grovetown without those players and the Jacket coaching staff started believing they could make realistic run at the title.

“When we went up to Augusta and beat a couple teams who made the state playoffs last year without a full roster, I think we knew we had something special,” said Nick Cochran. “When we got the volleyball and softball players on the team we just went to another level. When they got a couple games under their belt we really started rolling and you see how we played throughout the playoffs.”

The Jackets depth really proved to be the difference in many games as they actually had a few players who didn’t play both ways and were able to stay fresh for late game endurance evident in the fact that they did not allow a single point in their five postseason games.

The good thing for both teams is they return the majority of their players. Portal loses four players from this year’s team but Reddick feels they will continue to improve thanks to having a junior varsity to pull from.

The Yellow Jackets only lose one starter from this year’s squad and have many players hungry for playing time. So, while it seemed improbable that two Bulloch County teams made it to the title game this year, seeing them back next year should surprise no one.