With a more experienced roster on hand, Bethlehem Christian Academy coach Bruce Lane felt much better about his team’s chances heading into last week’s season opener at Strong Rock Christian. And the Knights didn’t disappoint, as they built up a big lead early and rolled past the Patriots 38-21 in Locust Grove to get the year started with a bang.
It was a marked turnaround from a year ago when BCA dropped its opener to Strong Rock Christian 49-0, and the win presented numerous encouraging signs for Lane and hopes that the Knights can build off the performance as they get set for another road trip this week to take on traditional rival Loganville Christian Academy.
“I was very pleased with how our kids played last week, but more than anything I was excited about how we came out and played with some real energy,” Lane said. “We were physical and played with some confidence. Overall, even though we graduated some really good seniors, we were a really young team last year. Now I think we’re a year stronger and a year smarter football-wise. And that paid a lot of dividends the other night. Our kids are physically maturing and feeling more comfortable in what we’re doing.”
The Knights had a big night on offense in the win Friday, Aug. 20, as junior quarterback Ben Reed threw for 267 yards on 13-of-16 passing and two touchdown passes against one interception while running for another score. Senior receiver Ty Whiting caught nine of those passes for 157 yards and a touchdown and also returned an interception 32 yards for a score.
Sophomore running back Joshua Adams had a touchdown reception from Reed and also scored a rushing touchdown, finishing the night with 127 yards on 22 carries. Junior placekicker Brady Logan also got in on the scoring with a 35-yard field goal.
Senior linebacker Chandler Cavoretto led BCA’s defensive effort with eight tackles and a fumble recovery, while sophomore Lawson Wooten recorded a sack.
It wasn’t a flawless performance in Lane’s eyes, but a successful one in the end.
“Obviously, we’ve got some things to clean up,” he said, pointing to BCA’s 10 penalties on the night, nine of which came on offense. “You’re not going to beat really good folks doing that on a consistent basis. Everything is correctable; it’s just a matter of us staying focused. We were balanced the other night. We’ve got to develop some other guys to be able to carry the football, but overall, you have to be pleased with the effort.”
When the Knights head to Loganville Christian for their 7:30 p.m. matchup Friday, Aug. 27, they’ll be looking to avenge another loss from last year (34-7) but will also be facing off with a Lions team aiming to bounce back from a 40-10 season-opening loss last week to Providence Christian — BCA’s preseason scrimmage opponent, who beat the Knights 24-15 in two quarters of action with the first-stringers squaring off against each other.
Lane said he expects a tough, competitive battle from LCA, and BCA will look to continue getting the ball in the hands of its primary playmakers and have another solid night in the kicking game, which helped take the pressure off the Knights’ defense against Strong Rock.
“They graduated some good football players from last year, but still have some really talented guys,” Lane said of the Lions. “The quarterback (6-foot-4 junior Joshua Ruder) has a great arm and poise in the pocket. They’re very aggressive and athletic on defense, and they have an outstanding placekicker. Providence is a really good football team with a chance to have a really strong year, and they present some problems to people with their spread passing game. I think the numbers hurt (LCA) the other night because they played a lot of guys both ways.
“In a game where there’s a rivalry involved, emotions can be high because both sides really want to win. It’s going to come down to preventing big plays, making some big plays ourselves and winning the turnover battle.”
BULLDOGGS TO FACE TOUGH HOME TEST WITH EASTSIDE
Before the 2020 and 2021 football schedules were created, Winder-Barrow coach Ed Dudley already knew that the new GHSA Region 8-AAAAAA slate would be difficult, and, in hopes of getting his team ready, he tried to build a challenging non-region schedule “on purpose.”
The Bulldoggs (1-0) will face one of those big tests Friday night, as they play host to Eastside, the No. 9-ranked team in Class 5A, in its season opener. Kickoff at W. Clair Harris Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m.
“We’ve got to play those top-10 teams to get better, and we’ve got to step it up from last year,” said Dudley, whose Bulldoggs fell behind 20-0 at halftime and couldn’t recover in a 27-14 loss to Eastside in Winder last fall.
The Eagles are 51-17 over the last six seasons and are coming off a 10-3 campaign in 2020 that saw them reach the state quarterfinals. Eastside’s head coach during that span, Troy Hoff, departed in the offseason to take over the program at Woodstock, but his replacement, Jay Cawthon, had been the team’s offensive coordinator since 2005 prior to his promotion.
Eastside graduated some firepower off that quarterfinal team from last fall, but still returns plenty of playmakers, including senior running back Dallas Johnson, a Division I recruit who ran for 250 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Bulldoggs last September. And the Eagles’ large offensive and defensive lines are anchored by another D-1 recruit in 6-foot-5, 325-pound senior Jalen Farmer.
“They’re big, fast and physical, and we can’t get caught sleepwalking against them again,” Dudley said. “We expect to see a very similar team from last year. We had a chance to watch them scrimmage a good Monroe Area team in the preseason, and we’ve definitely got our work cut out for us.”
Dudley has been pleased with the effort and improvement from his defense, which held cross-county rival Apalachee down last week in 19-3 season-opening win, and he expects an even stiffer challenge this week against an Eastside offense that will offer a different style from the Wildcats and be “more wide open.”
The Bulldoggs had strong performances in the front seven in limiting the Wildcats and also had a couple of big interceptions from senior Omarious Smith, including one that he returned 88 yards for a score. Dudley hopes to get Smith’s twin brother, Jamarious Smith, back in the secondary this week after he sat out last week’s game with an injury.
Meanwhile, while the Bulldoggs were able to manage the game offensively on the ground and attempted only five passes, Dudley anticipates opening things up more this week in order for his team to be successful at scoring points.
“We can’t be as conservative and won’t be able to just hang onto the ball to eat clock and expect to hang around with these guys,” he said. “That’s really on the head coach. I was trying to manage the lightning situation last week and get us the heck out of there with a win. But no excuses, we’re going to have to do better and get the ball to some of our guys out in space.”
APALACHEE HOPES TO HAVE REPLENISHED ROSTER AGAINST HABERSHAM
Apalachee got a bitter reminder last week that the coronavirus pandemic remains a thorn in everyone’s side and that teams around the state could be impacted by it significantly from week to week.
The Wildcats (0-1) were without numerous players in the loss at Winder-Barrow due to COVID-19-related quarantines, including several starters, with notable absences along the offensive and defensive lines and in the secondary.
Apalachee coach Tony Lotti said he hopes to have some of those players back in time for Friday, when the Wildcats travel to Habersham Central for another non-region contest. But along with that comes the hope that additional players don’t have to sit out at least a week.
“I was able to see film (on Habersham),” Lotti said, “But for now, the trick is not so much preparing for somebody else as it is just giving as many kids as you can reps. Because you don’t have any idea who will be available, so our primary focus is on getting as many kids prepared as we can and trying to take care of them health-wise.”
Of the 39 players who dressed out for the Winder-Barrow game, Lotti said he was proud of their effort even though the Wildcats came out on the short end of the final score.
“We had a bad break on a fumble call, gave up three really big plays and just couldn’t get the win,” he said. “We made a couple of big mistakes that really hurt us, but the kids didn’t hang their head at all. A lot of guys were thrown into a tough situation. A few of them had just returned Friday (due to quarantine) and weren’t able to practice the previous four days. They played the hand they were dealt, and quite a few of them showed us they could step into bigger roles if called on. Hopefully we can get to the point where we have the whole team out there.”
Habersham Central, which lost most of its 2020 offensive production to graduation, is coming off a 28-25 loss to Madison County last week in its season opener, in which the Raiders still rolled up 400 yards of offense. But they also showed they could be susceptible in their run defense as Madison County chewed up over 300 yards against them on the ground. That could play into Apalachee’s favor with its run-heavy Wing-T attack.
Lotti said he hoped to have at least one player back to add to the committee of running backs the Wildcats deploy. But the availability of players for games all hinges on when they are able to come out of quarantine and how long the GHSA requires them to go through a re-acclimation period that lasts up to five days before they’re eligible to play.
“It’s really all about bad timing,” Lotti said. “That part in the job description, ‘All other duties as assigned,’ is getting a real workout. I never stopped the protocols and the strict guidelines we had in place for our program last year and we’ll continue following those and just continue to take things one day at a time.”