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Tiftarea clutch in win at Bulloch
Bulloch Academy defensive tackle Conner Fordham (61) defends a Tiftarea pass during the first half of BA's homecoming game Friday at Gator Alley in Statesboro. - photo by BRYAN BURKE/Special to the Herald

    The Tiftarea Academy Panthers spoiled the Bulloch Academy Gators’ homecoming night with a 29-20 victory thanks in large part to junior running backs Ethan Mims and Noah McMinn.
    Mims was part of a rushing attack that racked up 238 yards. The Panthers (5-3 overall, 1-1 Region 1-AAA) gashed the Gators (3-4, 0-2) all night long with runs up the gut and some well-timed screen passes.
    BA head coach Ronnie Hodges expected Tiftarea to do damage through the air, but the running game did his squad in.
    “In the past they had been throwing the ball real well, but their running attack was better than I thought it was,” Hodges said. “We kind of got beat up front some, and they called a real good game.”
    The Gators held their own early in the game and forced Panthers’ senior quarterback Rob Flick to throw an interception on the team’s first play from scrimmage.
    Bulloch started the drive on the Tiftarea 22 and, a few plays later, senior running back Matt Sheppard punched the ball in from 5 yards out to put BA up 7-0.
    Tiftarea responded with a 27-yard field goal by senior kicker Zach Beier. The field goal gave Tiftarea some momentum and, late in the first quarter, Mims broke a tackle after catching a screen pass for a 51-yard score.  
    Mims helped give the Panthers the lead, but he also had two crucial fumbles that led to his backup, McMinn, getting carries in crunch time. It was the field position from those turnovers that kept BA in the game.
    With 30 seconds left before halftime, Tiftarea managed to drive 85 yards for what turned out to be the game-changing touchdown.  
    Flick completed a 49-yard pass to senior wide receiver Thomas Spurlin, and followed it up three plays later with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Jack Raines. Tiftarea went into the locker room up 17-13.
    Bulloch fought back on the legs of junior quarterback Will Rushing and, with 2:47 left in the third quarter, the Gators found themselves within striking distance, 23-20.  
    McMinn did his damage late and sealed the win with his only rushing touchdown of the night, in the fourth quarter. He took advantage of an injury-depleted defensive line that lost senior Connor Fordham to a knee injury.
    “It was a major blow to us,” Hodges said. “We’ve had so many injuries anyway, so that was one added to the list.”