A new classification, a new set of opponents but the same result.
Bulloch Academy had long been a power in GISA’s Class AA division, but the move to Class AAA this year brought speculation and doubt if the Gators could even compete with the bigger independent schools around the state.
All that was wiped away last week when the Gators secured a spot in the division’s ‘Elite Eight’ with a 42-0 thrashing of region and local rival Pinewood Christian Academy.
"Every year, making the playoffs is a team goal," said BA head coach Clint Morgan. "At BA, it’s expected. I never doubted if we would make the playoffs this year. But it’s one of the lower goals on our ladder. We’re not satisfied with JUST making the playoffs. The only way we are going to be satisfied right now is if we win our next game."
That next game is against powerful Mount de Sales Academy, the fourth ranked team in the state, at Cavalier Field in Macon. The Cavs are recovering from a 21-20 upset in the Region 2-AAA championship game last Friday night at the hands of Tattnall Square Academy and you can bet that they are taking all precautions against lightning striking twice.
"Mount de Sales is big, fast and athletic," said Morgan. "Offensively, they are very balanced. They have rushed for over 2,000 yards and thrown for over 1,000. It’s a pick-your-poison kind of thing."
The Cavalier offense is nicknamed ‘The Swain Train’ because brothers Chris and Myles Swain hold the keys to the MDS engine. Chris, the fullback, leads the team in rushing with 1,359 yards and 20 touchdowns on 87 carries. Myles, the wingback, has 664 yards and 12 TDs on 49 carries but also leads in receiving yardage with 495 yards and six scores on 13 catches.
Quarterback Bradley Smith has passed for 1,262 yards and six touchdowns. His favorite targets are Josh Abrams (24 receptions for 415 yards and four TDs) and Brandon Sartin (19 catches for 348 yards and six scores).
"I don’t think we can stop one phase of their offense for the entire game," said Morgan. "We are going have to pick our spots from play to play. It’s going to be a chess match."
The Cavs have scored a whopping 453 points throughout the season and given up 190.
"When you average 45 points per game," said Morgan, "you can give up almost 20. They are a big-play team. They haven’t had to put together long, time-consuming drives. We have to make them to that and limit the big play. One huge key for our players is going to be just the fact of understanding that our goal is to limit the big plays."
Leading the charge for the Gator defense will be senior linebacker James Brack, who has 81 individual tackles and 56 assists. Sophomore linebacker Loy Waters (54, 51) will be sidelined for his second straight game with a knee injury but junior defensive tackle Caleb Bohannon (37, 42) is back. Senior defensive tackle Jonathan Lumpkin (37, 42), strong safety Lane (31, 24) and cornerback Harrison Averitt (29, 34) and senior noseguard Blaine Lovett (25, 33) will also be keys to the BA defense.
Bulloch has had a big-play offense this season too but Morgan would rather have his team be ball hogs tonight.
"We’ve got to control the clock," he said. "We are going to have to sustain our drives. It’s not that I won’t take a big play now, but our goal has got to be having time-consuming drives."
The Gator option has churned out 3,246 yards behind the senior foursome of quarterback Brandon Walker, fullback Lestonz Lewis and wingbacks Ellis Lane and Morris Prince. Lewis leads the offense with 1,530 yards and 14 touchdowns on 175 carries. Lane has 657 and eight scores, Walker has 598 and five TDs and Prince has 208 and four.
Walker also had 352 yards passing and his favorite target is Jaylen Evans, who had eight catches for 131 yards and three scores.
Tonight’s contest will be a stout test for the Gators.
"Mount de Sales has a storied football tradition," said Morgan. "They’ve got state championships in both the GISA and in the Georgia High School Association. It’s supposed to be tough at this time of the year. It’s the playoffs. What more could you ask for? It’s a great way to start off our Triple A playoff experience."