When two historic rivals square off on the football field, the game holds a lot of meaning for players, fans and alums.
But when the result of the game determines if you make the playoffs or not, the intensity of the contest is cranked up to near frenzied levels.
That’s how the atmosphere should be tonight at Lowell Coley Field in Bellville when Bulloch Academy (7-2, 5-2) takes on Pinewood Christian Academy (5-4, 4-3) in a major GISA Region 1-AAA battle on Senior Night.
In order to advance to the first round of the playoffs, the Gators must defeat the Patriots. On the flip side, the Patriots must beat the Gators in order to have a chance to advance.
“You win and you’re in,” said BA head coach Ronnie Hodges, “or you lose and you watch. This is what high-school football is all about. This is what makes it a great game.”
Through the years, the Patriots have owned the Gators. Pinewood holds a 17-7 advantage and has beaten Bulloch 16 of the last 20 games. Last season, the Gators beat PCA 42-0 at Gator Alley.
“It’s gonna be a knock-down, drag-out kind of game,” said Hodges. “Pinewood is well coached and fundamentally sound. They make very few mistakes. On offense, they play power football.”
Much of the Patriots’ power comes from 190-pound senior fullback/linebacker Wayne Sharp.
“He is a very effective blocker and an excellent runner,” said Hodges. “On defense, he is wherever the ball is. He is very seldom blocked because he has a nose for the football.”
According to Hodges’ scouting report on PCA, Sharp “gives 100 percent on both sides of the ball and leads by example.”
Other Pinewood personnel that the Gators have to keep their eyes on are senior quarterback Johnathon Lawson, junior tailback Ethan Kumpula and sophomore running back Dalton Johnson.
Bulloch is on a four-game win streak and much of that credit goes to the Gator defense, which has forced 40 fumbles, recovered 18, intercepted seven passes, broken up 19 and had numerous fourth-down stands.
A trio of seniors leads the tough Gator defense. Linebacker Dillan Finch is the team leader in tackles with 48 individuals and 41 assists. Tackle Caleb Bohannon is second with 35 solo stops and 32 assists while linebacker Codi Johnson has 33 and 26.Other leaders include junior linebacker Loy Waters (32, 20), junior cornerback Harrison Averitt (22, 17) and junior tackle Asa Johnson (21, 11).
On defense, the Patriots run a four-man front.
“Sharp and company control their side of the ball,” said Hodges. “I think their defense has kept them in many games. Big plays and turnovers have been the difference.”
The Gator offense rolled up 378 yards of total offense the last time it touched the field and Hodges is hoping for a repeat performance.
Senior fullback Chris Young leads a stable of backs, each with their own unique brand of running. Young, a punishing runner, has 615 yards and eight scores on 106 carries. Junior Averitt, a slicing runner with deceptive speed, has 596 yards and nine TDs on 60 carries. Senior Jaylen Evans, the speedster, has 485 yards and seven
touchdowns on 47
Junior quarterback Loy Waters runs the show with confidence. He has 345 yards and five TDs on the ground and 459 yards and four scores through the air. His favorite target is Evans, who has 10 receptions for 270 yards and three touchdowns.
“Our kids have showed that they can rise to face any challenge,” said Hodges. “They play hard and never give up.”