Peaks and valleys defined Bulloch Academy’s football season, but none of them amounted to a success in head coach Terence Hennessey’s eyes.
“It’s disappointing the way we finished things out,” Hennessey said. “There definitely are some things to be proud of, but overall I felt like we fell below expectations.”
The 2016 season ended like all of BA’s under Hennessey: no region championship and a first round playoff exit. With that in mind it’s understandable 2016 didn’t meet expectations, but it was less than three weeks ago the program was riding higher than ever.
At 4-1-1, Bulloch Academy was matched up against Frederica — then 7-0 and thought by many as the best team in GISA’s AAA division. The two teams met on a Wednesday night due to Hurricane Matthew, heightening the tensions of the game.
Both teams would go into the fourth quarter scoreless, but that’s what Hennessy planned on doing.
“Our plan for that game was to get in the wishbone and ground and pound them,” Hennessey said. “Why? Because they don’t like that.”
Frederica scored first to make it 7-0, but with under two minutes left in the game the Gators scored on a three yard run by senior Tyce Lovett. Now down 7-6, instead of kicking the conventional extra point Hennessy decided to go for two. What should have been a difficult decision, according to Hennessy, was the easiest of his BA career.
“We told the kids at halftime if we score in this game we’re not tying it up,” Hennessey said. “I asked Tyce ‘Can you get me three yards?’ And I can’t tell you what he said but it was yes.”
Lovett scored on the run and BA downed Frederica 8-7. It was the highest point of Hennessey’s career as the head coach at BA, and no team was piling up more momentum in the GISA at 5-1-1.
Seven games in BA had one loss playing way up to a GHSA team and a tie from in week one to the defending state champions Memorial Day. Every other game BA had won by double digits, and with Pinewood and Trinity Dublin experiencing seemingly down years — the region was all but BA’s for the taking.
But as the cliche goes, life just isn’t fair sometimes.
BA was going through their schedule as usual, leading Trinity Dublin at halftime when their star player Jake Mock broke his leg. Mock was averaging 7.4 yards per carry with a total of 728 yards and eight touchdowns on the season. In short, he was by far their best player and one of the best weapons in all of the GISA.
His injury marked a clear turning point in BA’s season, because the Gator’s would go on to lose the Trinity game in overtime 16-10. And things only avalanched from there.
“After he got injured we just couldn’t get the job done in that game,” Hennessey said. “Not having Jake or Brandon (Merrill) really hurt us the rest of the way.”
On top of Mock, BA was down two-way starter Brandon Merrill and defensive starter Jake Nelson. For a team already struggling with numbers, facing Pinewood for a region title was going to be a struggle.
But a “struggle” was putting it kindly come game time.
BA would lose that game 46-14 with an enforced running clock by the third quarter. After riding so high not so long ago, it was a brutal way to end the regular season.
What looked like a region title and a home playoff berth at the beginning of October turned into a four seed and a road playoff game against a No. 1 seed in the playoffs by the end of October.
BA did their best to stay competitive with 9-0 Heritage in the first round of the playoffs. At this point Heritage was averaging over 44 points a game, but BA held them to just 19 in a loss, and even had a chance to win.
“We lost the field position battle,” Hennessey said. “The defense had a 4th-and-inches stop to give us the ball back with a chance to drive and win it.”
But now, BA’s season is over. 5-4-1 stands as the worst record in Hennessy’s BA career, although it’s just three years in with the Gators and has only four years total experience as a head coach in the GISA.
But that record pales in comparison to the seniors they’re losing.
Lovett, Mock, Davis Childs, Nathan Rice and G.C. Kimbrell all played both sides of the ball, while Sean O’Sullivan handled crucial kicking duties. It’s a group who made major contributions throughout their BA careers and are going to leave major holes in 2017.
“Tyce is a guy I’d trust my life with,” said junior Seth Conner. “G.C. and the rest of those guys instilled a lot of confidence in us.”
But Hennessey says he’s confident in the group of eighth graders along with the upcoming juniors to fill in for next season. According to Hennessy, this is the first time in his BA career he’ll get a bigger freshman class than he will outgoing seniors.
“There are still guys in our school who can help us,” Hennessey said. “It’s up to guys like Seth to recruit these guys to get back to having 36 guys on our roster.”
It’s not the end result BA wanted, but they did experience some highs as a program in 2016. But those highs can only mean so much when the end result is business as usual for BA — nothing to show for another football season.