When two historic rivals square off on the football field, the game holds a lot of meaning and significance for players, fans and alumni.
But when the result of that game determines if you make the playoffs, the intensity of the contest is jacked up to near frenzied levels.
That’s how the atmosphere should be tonight at Cleve Warnock Field in Dublin when Bulloch Academy takes on Trinity Christian School in a major GISA Region 1-AAA battle.
“As big as this rivalry is, then add the playoff implications … it just magnifies the importance of the game,” said Bulloch Academy head coach Clint Morgan.
A Gator victory guarantees the squad at least third place in the region and BA’s first-ever Class AAA football playoff game. On the flip side, a loss could mean elimination from the post-season picture.
“Win and you’re in,” said Morgan.
Bulloch out-pointed Bethesda in a 42-20 shootout last week for its third consecutive win and is on a roll headed into the critical matchup. But Trinity, after beating Bethesda 35-12 in Week 6, has suffered two straight losses and scored just 21 points.
“We want to keep the streaks alive,” said Morgan. “We have won three in a row while they have lost two in a row. We played really well last week. We got a little sloppy at times with penalties though but, it’s going to take that same kind of effort and intensity to knock off Trinity.”
The Crusaders run a Wing-T offense which has netted 1,351 yards rushing, 377 passing and scored 152 points.
“They are in their third coach in three years,” said Morgan. “Two years ago, they were throwing 85 percent of the time. Last year, they ran the triple option. This year, they are running the Wing-T. Coach (Buddy) Woodard has gotten them back to the basics and they are really a very fundamentally sound football team.”
Quarterback Chris Hobbs runs the show while running back Patrick Evans is his go-to guy.
“Hobbs is the field general on both sides of the ball,” said Morgan. “As he goes, they go. Evans has size and speed. We have to know where he is each and every play. We will also see Matthew Weigel at wingback.”
The cohesiveness of the Crusader team is an intangible.
“They start nine seniors on offense and nine seniors on defense,” said Morgan. “Most of them have been together all of their lives. They know what each is going to be doing at all times and it shows in their play.”
Trinity has a tough-as-nails 5-2 defense which has given up just 1,278 yards and 129 points in eight games.
“Weigel is an exceptional defensive end and Hobbs runs the show at safety,” said Morgan. “They are very stout on defense. You can tell that Coach Woodard has put a premium on defensive play, as compared to years past. There is a night-and-day difference from last year’s defense to this year’s.”
While Bulloch’s defense has given up 2,260 yards through eight games, the Gators have only allowed 118 points.
Leading the hitting has been linebackers James Brack and Loy Waters. Brack has 65 individual tackles, 44 assists, three blocked extra points and one interception. Waters has 45 solo stops, 47 assists, one interception and one fumble recovery. Both had five tackles for loss.
Other BA defensive leaders include defensive tackle Caleb Bohannon (33, 38, two fumble recoveries), safety Ellis Lane (27, 21, two pass breakups and one fumble recovery) and cornerback Harrison Averitt (26, 30, seven pass breakups, three interceptions and three fumble recoveries).
On offense, fullback Lestonz Lewis leads the Gator rushing attack with 1,166 yards and nine touchdowns on 143 carries. Wingback Lane has 582 yards and six TDs while quarterback Brandon Walker had 416 yards and five scores. Through the air, Walker is 16-of-47 for 247 yards and six touchdowns. Wide receiver Jaylen Evans has seven catches for 100 yards and three scores.
According to Morgan, both teams are pretty evenly matched although the Gators may have some advantages.
“Finally, we are playing a team that we compare favorably with size-wise,” said Morgan. “Just like us, they are not very big. We actually even have them numbers-wise. Where we start 20 different players, they only start 14. Both teams are so evenly matched it’s going to come down to who wants it the most.”