The long-awaited 2021 home opener for Bethlehem Christian Academy on its brand-new synthetic turf playing surface brought a large crowd to Knights Field on Friday, Sept. 24, with many fans getting their first look at a team that had won five straight road games to start the season and was 5-0 for the first time in program history.
But by the end of the night, visiting Towns County had put a damper on the mood of the BCA faithful.
Senior running back Kyle Oakes rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown and also caught a pass for a score out of the backfield, and the Indians slowed down the Knights’ offense just enough to win 14-11 and saddle BCA with its first loss of the year.
“They’re going to be a little disappointed,” BCA coach Bruce Lane said of his team after the post-game huddle. “Having been through some seasons where you win several in a row, it’s always tough to lose that first one because we’re all competitors and we want to win every time we go out. Our kids fought hard, and my hat’s off to Towns County. They had a great game plan and great players.”
Down 14-3 with 5:37 remaining in the game, the Knights, who had been severely limited by a stingy Towns County defense most of the night, finally got it going offensively, benefitting from a roughing-the-passer call that negated an interception before tight end Lawson Wooten slipped in behind the Indians’ secondary and hauled in a 37-yard touchdown pass from Ben Reed. The Knights added the two-point conversion to trim the deficit down to 14-11.
The Indians (4-1), though, recovered the ensuing onside kick and at least temporarily took the oxygen out of the BCA crowd when Oakes converted on a fourth down-and-short attempt with a little over a minute left, appearing to salt the victory away. But on the next snap, Oakes, who got through a crease and was about to take off toward the end zone, had the ball punched out of his hands from the side, and BCA’s Ty Whiting came up with the fumble at the Knights’ 28-yard line with 1:09 to play.
Reed would then hit Whiting on a pass up to midfield, and the Knights advanced the ball down to the Indians’ 46. But a pair of passes from Reed on third and fourth downs that could have put the Knights in range to at least tie the game with a field goal went right through the fingers of Whiting and Chandler Cavoretto, turning the ball over on downs and allowing Towns County to run out the final seconds.
“They were the best team we’ve played upfront since (Loganville Christian),” Lane said of the Indians. “They’re well-coached, and I said in the post-game huddle with both teams that we have a lot in common. They’re a 4-1 football team; we’re a 5-1 football team. And it wasn’t long ago that we both were used to looking at it from the other end. But I think both teams have seen a lot of growth. This was a very competitive football game. It came down to the last play or two, and that’s all you can ask for.”
After both teams exchanged time-consuming drives that ended with turnovers on downs and no points to start the game, and Towns County’s second drive wrapped up when a fake punt on fourth and long came up a yard short of succeeding, the Knights went to work with a drive that spanned more than six minutes got them on the board. Joshua Adams’ 28-yard run on fourth-and-1 down to the Indians’ 11 eventually led to a 27-yard field goal by Brady Logan that put the Knights up 3-0 with 2:54 left in the first half.
But Towns County wasted little time answering. Three quick passes from Connor Chastain to Collin Crowder advanced the ball deep into BCA player, and two plays later Oakes caught a screen from Chastain and took it to the house for a 27-yard touchdown to put the Indians up 6-3 with 1:26 to go.
After BCA went three-and-out to open the second half, the Indians embarked on an eight-play, 78-yard scoring drive. A 23-yard run by Mason Yeomans down to the BCA 12 kept the drive going, and Oakes scampered into the end zone on the next play and added the two-point conversion to make it 14-3 with 6:30 left in the third quarter.
“When you play a team that has a weapon (like Oakes), they’re going to make some plays,” Lane said. “And they had other guys making plays and were a balanced team. Our guys made some plays, too. We were just about 1-2 big plays short.
“I think it says a lot about our kids’ character and their resolve to nearly come all the way back there. When we went down 14-3, they could have hung their heads, but they didn’t. The defense got better as the night went on, gave us the football back and an opportunity at the end of the game.”
The Knights will be back in action Friday, Oct. 1, when they host 4-0 Cherokee Christian of the Georgia Association of Private and Parochial Schools. That battle will be the Knights’ homecoming game, and Lane said he was confident that his team would bounce back from the tough loss to Towns County and be ready to go.
“Adversity doesn’t develop character; it reveals it. And we’ve got a great group of kids,” he said. “They’re obviously disappointed now, but we’ve got to recover and get back after it. We’ll play a good Cherokee Christian team, and hopefully we’re going to be able to show them how it feels to have that winning streak snapped and lose that first one.”
T 0 6 8 0 — 14
B 0 3 0 8 — 11
B—Brady Logan 27 field goal
T—Kyle Oakes 27 pass from Connor Chastain (run failed)
T—Oakes 12 run (Oakes run)
B—Lawson Wooten 37 pass from Ben Reed (Ty Whiting pass from David Walterhouse)