In its season opener against Strong Rock Christian, Bethlehem Christian Academy used a potent offensive attack that produced 38 points to win. Last week, it was the defense that propelled the Knights toward a 3-0 shutout victory over rival Loganville Christian Academy.

Two wins, two different paths to get there. For BCA coach Bruce Lane, it speaks to how far his team has come during the offseason and how much more seasoned and confident they’ve become as a unit. The Knights have done what it took to win in their first two games, and they’ll have a chance to notch the first 3-0 start in the program’s decade-long history Friday, Sept. 3, when they head to Atlanta to face off with Cross Keys High School.

“I thought we played a really gritty football game. (LCA) played very well, but I believe that our kids just did a good job of overcoming some adversity,” Lane said of the Knights’ Aug. 27 blanking of the Lions — their third win in the last five years and third in eight tries overall against their main rivals. “We played a little better on offense than the score would indicate, but we had some penalties push us back several times. We’ve got to get better at that. Defensively, we tackled and covered better, and our pass rush was better.

“Really, it was amazing to see our fans and student body come over and support us the way they did. I realize it’s a rivalry game, but, not having been here as long, every game feels like a rivalry to me as a coach. But to see how they came out and were into every snap of the game, we just felt their support. We’ve got great fans, and hopefully we’ll pick up a few more along the way. There’s nothing wrong with being on a bandwagon, and I hope we’ll have a bandwagon for more people to jump on.”

Junior placekicker Brady Logan’s 27-yard field goal as time expired in the third quarter supplied the only points the Knights needed to pull out the victory, but there were other key plays along the way — including from sophomore Cody Craft, who blocked an LCA field-goal attempt and recovered a fumble. The Knights also had a major defensive stand inside their own 10-yard line near the end of the first half.

“Our defense played really well, and that’s what you want to see week to week, for your guys to play better,” Lane said. “We were pleased to get out of there with the win. (LCA) was very physical and showed great improvement from their first game. We had several penalties on defense, a couple after big plays where they were interpreted as personal fouls. But it was a complete team victory. Brady has been very steady and consistent the last two years in his kick placement, but the area he’s really improved and benefited us the greatest is in our field position via kickoffs. Special teams has been a real bright spot for us.

“Offensively, we’re still growing. We cut down on the silly procedures penalties from the first week, but there were a couple holds, aggressive penalties. You want to see your kids play with passion; we’ve just got to make better decisions. It’s a learning process. But it is fun to see a lot of different guys contributing like we had. It gives you an opportunity to have some success.”

When the Knights travel to Cross Keys (0-1), they’ll face a team that has struggled for many years, perhaps more so than any other program across the Georgia high school football landscape. The Indians, who dropped their season opener to Rock Springs Christian 46-6 on Aug. 20, had only one win in the past four years entering this season, haven’t won more than one game in a season since 2010 and haven’t had a winning season since 1994 while traditionally playing a non-region schedule in GHSA.

But Lane is refusing to let his players pencil in 3-0 on the record ledger just yet.

“We’re at a point in our program where we don’t take anybody for granted and prepare for everybody like we’re playing the Green Bay Packers,” he said. “We’re not going to be fearful of anyone, but we’re going to respect everybody we play. I had a player say how nice it was to be getting to school on Monday morning after a win on Friday night. And that’s just something where we’re continuing to try to lay a foundation that perhaps hasn’t always been familiar territory in the past. We want to be appreciative of what we’ve accomplished, but not satisfied. We want to continue to get better each and every week and be very prepared for the next opponent.”

Lane described Cross Keys as a “young bunch” with a “very aggressive” defense that will seek to apply a lot of pressure with blitzes and stunts and an offense that is using two backs to try to establish a consistent run game.

BCA, Lane said, is still trying to find its identity in some ways on offense and find some more players to get involved, particularly in the run game. Sophomore running back Joshua Adams rushed for 88 yards on 19 carries in the win over LCA and has tallied 215 yards on 41 carries through the first two games. And junior quarterback Ben Reed, who threw for 91 yards last week, added 41 yards on the ground on 11 carries, as the Knights have incorporated more run-pass-option plays into their offense to take advantage of Reed’s dual-threat capabilities. But beyond that, the carries have been very light.

“We’ve got to get more guys the ball to give Josh a little rest,” Lane said. “We feel like we’ve got some guys and hoped to get a few more (against LCA), but when you’re at 0-0 most of the night, it was kind of like postseason baseball where every pitch matters. Every snap, you were sitting on the edge of your seat because each play at the potential to decide the game.”

At this point in the year, Lane’s primary focus remains on fine-tuning and correcting the mistakes the Knights have made. He said he believes their ability to win a close game like the one against LCA will serve them well when they get to the meatier and more difficult part of their schedule.

“Last year our two wins were blowouts, and really the only close game we had was the last game of the season,” Lane said. “You’ve got to be able to win those ones where you’re going a full 48 minutes, and we did that the other night. Our guys had to go out and perform, and our coaches did a great job getting them ready to play. We want to be sound in our kicking game and play good, strong defense every week.

“It’s hard to lose if the other team doesn’t score.”

BULLDOGGS HOPE TO FIND OFFENSIVE RHYTHM AT GLYNN ACADEMY

If Winder-Barrow is fortunate enough to make the state playoffs for a third year in a row later this fall, it could have to make a lengthy postseason road trip. And the Bulldoggs will get a taste of that Friday, when they make the long trek down to Brunswick near the coast to take on Glynn Academy, a fellow Class 6A program out of Region 2.

Winder-Barrow coach Ed Dudley said his team will break up the five-hour-plus bus ride with a tour of Georgia Southern’s facilities before completing the final couple of legs of the trip down interstates 16 and 95.

But after that, it’ll be down to business as the Bulldoggs (1-1) look to revive an offense that struggled mightily last week in a 20-8 home loss to Eastside. Winder-Barrow was held to just 16 yards rushing and, with the exception of four big pass plays, was kept in check by the Eagles’ defense.

“We did not run the ball well,” Dudley said. “We’ve got to be able to get something out of the run game, or we’re going to have to start throwing it 60 times. My general tendency is to want to try to have balance. Eastside is really good, but we just didn’t execute. One or two small breakdowns here and there can lead to bad things overall. We did OK at times and I was fine with the effort; we’re just inconsistent.

“We’ve got to make it work and find some offense. No points means no wins.”

The Bulldoggs will be looking to pay back Glynn Academy, which came away with a 21-14 victory in Winder when the two sides met a year ago, but they’ll also face an opponent hoping to make its own improvements.

The Red Terrors, who are led by Rocky Hidalgo, a long-time coaching friend of Dudley’s who served as his defensive coordinator at Walton High School, went 8-4 last season and won a region championship. And they have been a perennial playoff team under Hidalgo, winning four region titles in his first seven seasons and making it to the Class 5A championship game in 2015. But after losing several key seniors, the Terrors (0-1-1) have struggled out of the gate this year, tying McIntosh County Academy 14-14 in their opener before getting throttled by Camden County 46-21 last week.

Glynn Academy has trotted out a couple of different quarterbacks in the effort to replace the graduated TJ Lewis (now at Louisville) and has been led primarily this season by junior running back John Moody, who is coming off a 173-yard rushing performance in the loss to Camden County.

“Both their quarterbacks can run and throw, and they’ve got a couple 6-4, 6-5 wide receivers that will allow them to take some shots against us,” Dudley said. “We’ve got to make up for that (height disadvantage) with our speed and athleticism (in the secondary). But we’ve also got to be able to stop the tailback and not let them run all over us.

“They’ve got great quickness on defense with four linebackers who are as good as anybody’s. So if you’re talking about being able to run the football well, we’ve got to be able to get some bodies on those guys and execute.”

Overall, Dudley hopes to see a huge jump in production from his team as the Bulldoggs play their third of four scheduled non-region contests. After the trip to Brunswick, they’re off next week before hosting Cedar Shoals on Sept. 17 in their final tune-up before the start of Region 8 play at Habersham Central on Sept. 24.

“It is a tough schedule, and we wanted it that way,” Dudley said. “We’ve just got to stick with our program and plan. It’s not time to panic, but we’ve got to start putting up points.”

APALACHEE AT MADISON COUNTY

Apalachee will hope to be a little bit closer to full strength Friday night in its home opener against Madison County, as the Wildcats play their final non-region game before opening up Region 8-AAAAA play Sept. 17 at Clarke Central.

The Wildcats, who have taken a roster hit in the early part of the season due to COVID-19-related absences, were still without several players last week in a 27-7 loss at Habersham Central, which dropped them to 0-2 on the season.

The Raiders (1-1) got touchdown runs in the first quarter from Sirmarcus Burney and in the second quarter from Carson Parker to grab a 14-0 lead. The Wildcats responded with a 38-yard touchdown run by Prince Tate, but that was the only offense they could muster on the night. Burney added a 20-yard touchdown pass to BJ Hodges in the third quarter, and Habersham tacked on one more score in the fourth on a 23-yard run by Blandon Grizzle.

Colby Sikes rushed for 112 yards on 11 carries to lead the Wildcats, while Tate added 93 yards on 10 carries.

Apalachee will likely need to generate a lot more scoring to keep pace with a formidable Madison County rushing attack that features several different running backs. The Red Raiders (1-0), who were off last week, rolled up over 300 yards on the ground in a 28-25 win over Habersham Central on Aug. 20.

Kickoff from R. Harold Harrison Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m.

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