Friday’s game against Piedmont Academy was a painful reminder that it takes time for a varsity football program to become competitive.
It’s not that the Bethlehem Christian Academy Knights haven’t won on the football field. The team was 4-6 in 2013 and in playoff contention until the final game of the season.
However, last week’s 77-0 loss to Piedmont Academy, a program which dates back to 1971, was a reminder that it probably takes longer to construct a successful football program than any sport at the high school level. It will take patience.
“I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to not being patient,” said second-year BCA head coach Lance Fendley. “I don’t look at it as ‘it’s our third year,’ but rather another football season. However, by no means do we ever expect to get beat like we did last Friday. It doesn’t matter if it’s our first year.”
In terms of program growth, BCA has gone from 17 to 19 to 28 players in the last three seasons.
“I do think we are close,” Fendley said in talking about future success.
BCA has gone from the smallest classification in the Georgia Independent Schools Association to the largest for the 2014-2015 school year. That move has nothing to do with athletics. It is based solely on enrollment at the school and BCA is a growing educational center.
The step up in classification — and competition — will mean some growing pains at times for the Knights on the gridiron. Trailing 49-0 after the first quarter against Piedmont, BCA learned that is still has to take more steps before it is among the elite in the GISA.
Despite the lopsided score last week, there were some bright spots for the Knights. Graham Doolittle rushed for 72 yards on eight attempts and also had one pass reception.
The passing game struggled, however, going just 3-of-34 for 17 yards.
Now in its third full season of varsity football, BCA has recorded seven victories. The program played a split JV/varsity schedule in 2011, but lost its three varsity contests.
The 2014 schedule featured three non-region games (Windsor Academy, Piedmont Academy and John Milledge Academy.) Windsor was winless a year ago, but has started the new season 2-0 and is certainly one of the most improved teams in the GISA. Piedmont Academy won back-to-back AA titles in 2010 and 2011 and has numerous region championships in its program’s history.
So how does the team and program grow?
“We have to continue to get kids in here who know how to win,” Fendley said. “We are still dealing with players who have never experienced a lot of success. I’m the first one to tell you that people who have experience winning know how to win and if you don’t, then you struggle.”
It will be another tough test for the team this week. This week’s opponent — John Milledge Academy — is currently 2-0 and is expected to be a contender in AA this fall under coach J.T. Wall, a former player at the University of Georgia.
“I would be willing to say if John Milledge is not the best, then they are one of three best teams in the entire association,” Fendley said. “We have to play fast and physical. Like any team they are vulnerable. Our job is to capitalize on our chances. In their first two games, teams had success with quick screens, passes, not being real cute just playing heads up football. Our main concern is on defense we have been having trouble stopping the run and John Milledge lives and dies with the run. It will be an incredible challenge for us. We are coming off an embarrassing loss. It will be interesting to see how we respond, but our kids have character.”
Not panicking at this stage of the season is also vital for the Knights.
“We still have eight weeks left,” Fendley said. “We are just going to continue to go week by week.”
Looking at the big overall picture, the BCA program is taking the necessary steps to improve. School leaders are investing in an on-campus stadium which may be completed this fall.
“We have to continue to build from the ground up with our feeder programs,” Fendley said. “We have to get those players in successful situations. That will help prepare them for varsity and then the coaches are also inheriting kids who know how to win.”
In terms of last Friday’s loss, there is no sugarcoating it.
“Friday night was a comedy of errors,” Fendley said. “In week one we kept turning it over and in week two we couldn’t catch and couldn’t tackle. We dropped 10 footballs that were first down plays or touchdown plays. We had people in position in the backfield on defense, but they were not wrapping up. When you play a team like Piedmont and you don’t make catches or tackles, you get beat.”
A stronger start offensively will also be key moving forward.
“We have to be able to make the first drive successful,” Fendley said. “Two weeks in a row we have gone three downs and out. We have to make our opening drive last a little bit. Against Piedmont, we moved inside their territory, but then dropped three passes in a row. They took away our run so that means we have to be able to complete passes.”