Bulloch Academy took the field against Tiftarea Friday night amid cold and rainy conditions at Gator Alley in the first round of the GISA Class AAA state playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Gators, the outcome proved every bit as miserable as the playing conditions as the Panthers stole away with a 17-14 victory to bring Bulloch’s season to an end.
“It’s obviously not how we wanted our season to end,” BA coach Pat Collins said, “I know this is a tough way to go out, but I’m extremely proud of our guys. We’re really going to miss our outgoing seniors and we look forward to continuing to build with our underclassmen. The biggest thing is that I’m proud of how all of them represented this team and this school all season.”
Bulloch Academy (7-4) stormed out of the gates in the second half, marching down the field on its first possession to find the end zone and tie the game at 14-14 after trailing at the break.
The Gators seemed to maintain the upper hand throughout the rest of the game, but had a pair of pivotal mishaps that prevented them from gaining the lead.
Just before the end of the third quarter, BA drove deep into Tiftarea territory. Faced with a fourth down, Olen Anderson came in to attempt a 36-yard field goal, but the snap and hold weren’t clean and holder/quarterback Fischer Oglesby was forced to heave up a desperation pass that fell incomplete and turned the ball over on downs.
The BA defense surrendered quick-strike touchdowns on the Panthers’ first two drives of the game to dig into the early hole, but shut down Tiftarea throughout the second and third quarters.
Already hurting from the missed field goal opportunity, the Gators were dealt their toughest blow with just over five minutes remaining. The Gators had just crossed midfield and Oglesby broke loose on an option keeper. Oglesby wove through two tacklers and made a break for the pylon in the front-left corner of the end zone, but a hit at the 4-yard line jarred the football loose and it bounced into and through the end zone for a touchback that awarded the ball to Tiftarea.
“That’s the tough thing about games like these,” Collins said. “We had two very good and evenly matched teams. There were rough conditions and mistakes on both sides, but you have to tip your cap to Tiftarea. They made a few more plays where it counted.”“
Armed with a wildcat-esque offense that featured the senior duo of Adam McKinney and Logan Crossan, the Panthers slowly clawed down the field. Tiftarea was just out of field goal range and facing thrid-and-long with two minutes remaining when Crossan found Dylon Seagraves on a strike over the middle to the BA 5.
A pair of penalties and some stout run defense by Bulloch moved Tiftarea backwards, but Jayk Sailer split the uprights from 30 yards out to notch the winning points.
Bulloch fielded the ensuing squib kick for good field position and Oglesby rushed into Tiftarea territory with four seconds to play, but a final Hail Mary attempt fell 10 yards short of the end zone and was knocked away by Panther defenders to end the Gators’ season.
Tiftarea will travel to Heritage next week to compete in the state quarterfinals.