The Bulloch Academy Gators have never squared off against another Bulloch County public school on the football field. That all changed Thursday night, albeit in a scrimmage game, as the Gators traveled to Portal for both teams' first action against another team. A back-and-forth exciting contest was eventually won by the Gators in the last minutes on a 49-yard touchdown run by Isaiah Smart for a 21-20 Gator victory.
The Gators were playing their first game under head coach Aaron Phillips who has installed the triple option offense. Working exclusively under center the Gators had several issues with the center, quarterback exchange. Thursday was Phillips first chance to see the team execute against another opponent and was pleased with many areas, but knows they have to correct the glaring error that kept happening Thursday.
“We looked great at times, and it looked like day one at times.” Said Phillips. “We had a lot of center exchange troubles and I’m not exactly sure if it was humidity and sweat or the first time under the lights against another team but we can’t put the ball on the ground like that. Offensively, I felt we were able to do anything we wanted, but you put yourself in a bind when you put the ball on the ground.”
Phillips did give credit to Portal for taking advantage of situations and was particularly impressed by quarterback Elijah Coleman and receiver Amir Jackson.
“They have two phenomenal athletes,” said Phillips. “The Jackson kid at receiver is bigger and stronger than anybody we have on our team and he was able to jump up and make some big catches. The quarterback Coleman is as good an athlete as we will probably see this year and he made some great individual plays. I feel like our defense will be just fine the big problem is our offense gave them some situations they cashed in on.”
For Portal head coach Jason McEachin after not winning a game in 2021, he felt there were plenty of positives to come from a game in which they came back to take the lead late in the fourth quarter.
“The biggest thing I took away from tonight was the competitive effort I saw from our team,” said McEachin. “We only ran eight offensive plays in the first half and trailed much of the game, but we fought back and took the lead in the fourth. We had an opportunity to close it out, but gave up a huge play on fourth down. I believe our mistakes were not effort-based mistakes so we have plenty to build on.”
The Panthers did a pretty good job limiting the Gators most of the game on first and second down, but gave up quite a few third and long, and fourth down plays which really hurt them.
“I feel like we were one or two guys away from stopping those big plays,” said McEachin. “We are running a brand-new offense and a brand-new defense and I think our guys may have been thinking too much tonight. We are going to try and refine things so when those situations come up again, we are better prepared to execute.”
The Gators started the scoring on an 8-yard quarterback keeper by Ben Aaron. The point after by Hunter Davis Pressley made it 7-0 Gators. The Panther defense came up with a big play in the second quarter as Elijah Coleman picked off an Aaron pass at the Portal 35-yard line and returned it 35 yards. Coleman later at quarterback hooked up with Amir Jackson on a 22-yard touchdown pass. The extra point failed and it was 7-6 Gators.
Bulloch Academy added a score before halftime as Smart took a jet sweep around the right side and in from 10-yards out. Micah McDonald’s extra point made it 14-6 at the half.
The Panthers added a 24-yard touchdown pass from Coleman to Jackson early in the third quarter. Coleman took the 2-point conversion in as well to tie the game at 14-14. In the fourth from the 39-yard line Coleman sprinted down the near sidelines, made a spin move to avoid a tackle, and then broke another tackle and ran into the end zone for the touchdown. The extra point failed and the Panthers led 20-14.
With just over three minutes to play the Gators were forced into a fourth and five from the Panther 49-yard line. Smart took the jet sweep to the right side, made a nice hesitation move and then sprinted 49 yards for the touchdown to tie the game at 20-20. Pressley then split the uprights for a 21-20 lead. The Panthers made it just past midfield with just over two minutes remaining, but on fourth and three Coleman was sacked by Bryson Scott and the Gators ran out the clock.
Bulloch Academy will host Memorial Day Friday at 7:00 while Portal will travel to Claxton Friday for their next scrimmage.