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BA in the hunt for GISA state title
093011 BA FOOTBALL 01
Bulloch Academy's Jaylen Evans, top, scores the first of his three touchdowns, despite the effort of Southland defender Lawton Williams, in this file photo from the Gators' 21-16 victory Sept. 30, 2011. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    Bulloch Academy has endured a host of changes on the football field this season, but one constant remains. With the GISA state playoffs set to begin this week, the Gators (8-2) are one of just eight teams still in the hunt for the Class AAA title.
    Such a lofty record would have been hard to predict back in August as the Gators were faced with a rebuilding project. The top four rushers in BA’s option run attack had all graduated in the spring, and Clint Morgan left his head coaching position to help Frederica Academy start up its football program.
    But the show had to go on, and with Ronnie Hodges taking the reins for his first season as a head coach since 1976, the Gators charged headlong into the season.
    “I knew going into this year that we had a chance to be a pretty good team,” said Hodges, whose last head coaching job was at Statesboro High. “We had to face some adversity, but I’m proud of the way that we’ve fought to get over those hurdles.”
    Even with the wins, Bulloch’s offense has been a work in progress throughout the fall. Hodges discarded Morgan’s flexbone system and replaced it with an I-formation look. The Gators rolled through their first two games, but then dropped a pair of region contests, putting them behind the 8-ball early in the season.
    Hodges started tweaking the offense — which was pushed around in the two losses — moving around some skill position players to utilize their speed. The Gators’ current offense is now closer to the same old flexbone look, with some of the newer pages of the playbook still in use.
    “The bottom line was that we just weren’t powerful enough,” said Hodges. “We just didn’t have the size and muscle to do exactly what we wanted to. Going back to some of the old offense is utilizing our speed better and putting us in a better position to win.”
    The other monster that continues to rear its head at Bulloch is the injury bug.
    At least four Gators have been lost for the season with injuries, and other bumps and bruises have left some players at less than 100 percent. The loss of so many seniors from 2010 had already ensured that the 2011 Gators would be a less experienced group, but the injuries have forced even younger and less battle tested players into constant action.
    Rising to the challenge, the Gator defense — which has been especially hard hit by injury — has continued to produce.
    During Bulloch’s current six-game winning streak, the Gators had to endure one game where the offense ran just a handful of plays in the second half, then successfully defended a two-point conversion in the waning seconds of a 39-38 victory over Bethesda Day three weeks ago.
    “People have had to step up — no question about it,” said Hodges. “When you have injuries, there’s not much else you can do. Our guys have done a good job of adjusting and playing well, no matter where they need to line up.”
    Momentum is squarely behind Bulloch Academy, but the road gets tougher this week. The Gators have a road date against Stratford Academy (9-1) and are now just one loss away from packing things in for the season.
    But that won’t phase the Gators. Despite some newer and younger faces, this is a program that has become accustomed to success in November and is looking forward to making a postseason run.”
    “We’ve seen tape on Stratford,” said Hodges. “They’re definitely a very solid team. That being said, I like how we look. Everyone is pretty confident. We know that we need to win from here on out, but I think we’ll be up to the challenge.”

    Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.