Southeast Bulloch’s football season came to a somber close Friday night, being defeated 35-7 by Worth County in the first round of the 3A state playoffs.
From the outset, Worth County was determined to beat SEB at their own game — draining the clock and pounding the ball on the ground.
“Give Worth County the credit tonight,” said head coach Pat Collins. “They were the better team and the better team won tonight.”
It started from the very first drive of the game, as Worth took the ball from their own 25 and milked a 13-play drive for over six minutes and punched in with a 13-yard touchdown play action pass to the flat from Lance Eldridge to Chris McDaniel.
“They would just run it and run it and run it then throw a pass,” said senior linebacker Jonathan Volskay. “We would get caught off guard on those passes.”
Worth would convert two fourth downs on the drive, one via an offsides penalty by SEB on a 4th-and- 5 play. Two more third down conversions followed, the final one for the touchdown.
Following a four-and- out turnover on downs by SEB at midfield, Worth went right back to work, driving the ball all the way down to the one — helped by a series of first down passes by Eldridge. But SEB mustered a stop by forcing a goal line fumble and recovering to prevent a 14-0 deficit.
SEB’s next drive was stymied for a mere 14 yards on just five plays, forcing a punt back to the Worth County 47. Two plays later, Eldridge broke off a designed quarterback power up the middle of the line and zig-zagged his way to the end zone for a 50-yard run and score. Just like that, Worth was up 14-0.
SEB’s offense continued to struggle for the rest of the half. The only real sign of life came with under two minutes to play on a 4th-and- 2 where Chase Walker picked up a first down on a run — then a facemask by Worth pushed SEB even further up the field.
Now at the Worth 35, it finally seemed like SEB had a chance to put points on the board. But the very next play Caleb Carter targeted Walker on a pass in the middle of the field and was promptly picked off by Tay McCullough to evaporate any momentum SEB had.
To make matters worse, Worth turned around and drove the ball 75 yards down field on the shoulders of two big runs by Horace Everson and McDaniel. At the stroke of half, Worth punched in their third touchdown to make it 21-0.
SEB could only manage 3.4 yards per play in the first half, as the usually uber-productive Walker was consistently stonewalled by Worth County’s front seven. All the while Worth County hummed at 8.6 yards per play, including five passes that all went for first downs.
“They were much more diverse tonight than they have been in the regular season,” Collins said. “They executed in getting their explosive players in space.”
The third quarter didn’t get any better for SEB. After pinning Worth County at their own five with a punt, the Rams marched down the field on another 13-play drive very similar to Worth’s opening drive in the game.
And just like the opener, this drive ended in a touchdown — this time off an 11-yard run by Everson.
Then to add insult to injury, Worth popped the ensuing kickoff straight in the air — and like a nervous centerfielder getting under a pop fly — Josh Proctor let the ball slip through his arms and on to the turf.
And as SEB’s luck would go, Worth recovered the kick and drove 38 yards in just four plays to go up 35-0 with 1:15 left in the third quarter.
SEB finally got on the board with their next drive. 44 of the 68 yards in the drive came off eight carries by Walker to punch in his 22nd touchdown of 2016. If anything, SEB never gave up despite a running clock in the fourth quarter down by five scores.
“I’m proud of our team, just not our execution,” Collins said. “Never at one point during that game did any teammate not have a positive attitude.”
Walker would gain 90 of SEB’s 147 total yards on 23 carries. But the real star for SEB was Volskay, whose name was rattled off over and over on the loudspeaker as he racked up 12 tackles on the night.
“Jonathan has been a leading tackler since middle schooler,” Collins said. “He was in a key position for us tonight and he did his part to make all those tackles.”
Despite a disappointing end, this SEB senior class can boast to never have endured a losing season. They’re the first group of seniors at SEB who can claim as such since the class of 2004, who were 27-15 in four years.
SEB now finishes 5-5 in 2016, and can claim to the one of the two Bulloch County schools — along with Bulloch Academy — to make the football playoffs this season.