Bethlehem Christian Academy and head coach Bruce Lane will gladly take the 4-0 start they’re off to, and they’re hoping to make it 5-0 this week. But to achieve that, they’ll have to persevere through the final and longest leg of a five-game road trip to open the season and what Lane believes will be the toughest test the 2021 Knights have encountered to date.
BCA will travel well over four hours Friday, Sept. 17, to the far southwestern corner of the state to take on Southwest Georgia Academy in Damascus. The Warriors are officially 3-0 on the year and are coming off back-to-back 21-20 wins over Macon-East Montgomery Academy of Alabama and Central Fellowship Christian Academy after being credited with a forfeit victory over Baconton Charter in the first week.
“They graduated some really good kids with a pair of good running backs, a receiver and a big lineman who were all all-state caliber players,” Lane said of the Warriors, a perennial power in GISA Class AA who went 8-4 last season (including a 66-29 thumping of BCA in Bethlehem) and reached the state quarterfinals. “But they were also very junior-heavy so they return a lot of guys. They know to win games and are more of a storied program than we are right now. Lots of state championship and playoff appearances, and they’re looking toward continuing that.
“They’re a very physical, very disciplined team and don’t make a lot of mistakes. Size-wise, I think we match up a lot better with them than last year. At the end of the day, I feel really good about our ability to go down there and compete.”
And Lane has good reason for the confidence in his team, which kept its record unblemished last week even though it had to work a little harder in a 28-27 come-from-behind victory at Augusta Prep.
Quarterback Ben Reed’s 49-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter gave BCA the lead, and a missed extra point by the Cavaliers late proved to be the difference.
The Knights, who entered the final quarter trailing 21-14, tied the game when Reed found Ty Whiting in the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown and then took the lead on Reed’s run. The Cavaliers (1-1) scored on a 12-yard touchdown run to pull within 28-27, but the missed extra point kept BCA on top.
Reed finished 6-of-8 passing for 51 yards and the touchdown and added 104 rushing yards and a score on 10 carries. Joshua Adams ran for 156 yards on 18 carries and scored on runs of 12 and 57 yards.
“I was proud of the kids’ effort and thought they were resilient,” Lane said. “It was the first time really that we found ourselves behind, and we were able to fight back and get a win against a talented team. I think the better team won, though I’m not sure we played better overall. We made a couple mistakes early in the first quarter that they ended up taking advantage of, but they played really hard. For us, I think it put it in perspective that to be a complete team, we have to be prepared every week to play. And maybe this brought us back to reality (after a 56-0 thrashing of Cross Keys the previous week) that we need to have our minds right.”
BCA will again lean on its big three offensive playmakers in Reed, who has completed 68% of his passes and thrown for 438 yards and four touchdowns while adding three scores on the ground, Adams (415 rushing yards at 6.6 a carry and five touchdowns to go along with three receiving touchdowns) and Whiting, who has three touchdown receptions. And the Knights’ defense will look to stifle a SWGA offense with big-play capabilities.
“They had to rebuild their whole backfield but their skill guys are playing really well,” Lane said. “We do need to get our minds right because it is a long trip, but I think our coaches have done a good job preparing our kids each week. I don’t think anything has surprised them yet, and we’re focusing on our opponent and finishing up this road trip against probably the toughest team we’ve seen.
“We’ll be excited to finally play at home next week, but right now our attention is focused on this Friday. We don’t care where we play; we’re just thankful to have the opportunity to play every Friday night. This is a top-tier GISA team and it’ll be a good measuring stick to see where we are.”
CEDAR SHOALS AT WINDER-BARROW
It’ll be homecoming at W. Clair Harris Stadium on Friday night when Winder-Barrow plays host to Cedar Shoals, and Bulldoggs coach Ed Dudley hopes the atmosphere will give his team an extra burst of energy as it looks to snap a two-game skid and even its record at 2-2.
But there’s also an extra sense of urgency around the Bulldoggs as this will be their final non-region contest before they open GHSA Region 8-AAAAAA play next week at Habersham Central.
“It’ll be a barnburner, I guarantee you,” said Dudley, whose Bulldoggs lost a 49-43 overtime classic to the Jaguars in the same stadium two years ago. “It’s always a really good matchup, and we’ll have our hands full with them. Hopefully we’ll play with a lot of enthusiasm.”
Cedar Shoals (0-1), which lost its season opener to Oconee County 27-19 on Aug. 27, has seen its early schedule affected by COVID-19, which caused the postponement of its county rivalry game with Clarke Central and the cancellation of a game last week with St. Pius X. The Jaguars themselves will be getting their final tune-up before they open 8-AAAA play next week.
“They’ve got a really good team with an explosive offense and great athletes,” Dudley said, pointing to Jaguars senior running back Jerdavian Colbert, who rushed for 133 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown in the Oconee County game, and junior quarterback Mandrell Glenn. “And they’ve got a big, athletic, tough defense as usual.”
The Bulldoggs will hope to solve some issues on offense that have kept them at bay during losses against Eastside (20-8) on Aug. 27 and Glynn Academy (35-14) on Sept. 3.
“There have been a lot of takeaways, but the main thing is we have to play much closer to mistake-free and be able to move the ball in the first half, which we haven’t done well,” Dudley said, referencing the Glynn Academy game where the Bulldoggs found themselves in a disastrous 35-0 hole at halftime. "I feel like (after the bye week last week) we’ve got a better handle on the things we do well and don’t well and what can help us. We’ve been racking our brains to try to improve in certain areas.
“You just can’t have the amount of unforced errors and pre-snap penalties we’re having. We’ve got to play better and give ourselves an opportunity to win the game in the second half.”
APALACHEE AT CLARKE CENTRAL
Apalachee (0-3) and defending Region 8-AAAAA champion Clarke Central (0-2) will both be in search of their first win when the two sides tangle at Billy Henderson Stadium in Athens on Friday night and open up region play against each other.
After a bye week following the 0-3 start, Apalachee coach Tony Lotti said earlier this week he was hopeful and anticipating that he’ll finally have the full roster at his disposal after COVID-related quarantines have limited the Wildcats in three non-region games.
“We’ve shown a good ability to fight on despite our circumstances,” said Lotti, whose team is coming off a 29-17 home loss to Madison County on Sept. 3 and gave up well over 300 rushing yards against a triple-option offense without the benefit of having their starting inside and outside linebackers due to quarantines. “I think we’ve learned or been reminded how important everyone on the team is to the overall mission. There are no excuses, but it is nice to maybe have everyone back. We’ve got to continue to improve, and good things can happen.”
The Gladiators have faced a rigorous schedule out of the gate with losses to defending 6A champion Buford (16-3), which is off to another 3-0 start, and Oconee County, which has reached the AAA finals in back-to-back years (21-2) and is also unbeaten at 3-0.
Facing two tough defenses, the Gladiators have struggled to generate much offense, but Lotti and the Wildcats are aware of the dual threat that quarterback Lucian Anderson poses and the abilities of senior running back Will Richardson.
“They did lose some kids from last year, but they have some explosive playmakers and are big upfront,” Lotti said. “We’ve got to be able to play disciplined football and not do things that are going to cost us.”
That mentality extends over to the offensive side of the ball, where the Wildcats will be challenged by a strong Clarke Central defense. Senior running back Colby Sikes has been Apalachee’s go-to guy with 313 rushing yards at 8.9 yards a carry and two touchdowns through the first three games. The Wildcats also hope to have sophomore running back Prince Tate who provides breakaway capability, but Lotti said he will be a game-time decision after taking a hard hit and having to leave the Madison County game early.
Apalachee’s quarterback situation remains fluid with senior Isaiah Skinner and sophomore Howard Holloway continuing to battle it out in practice for playing time. Skinner got the starting nod and went the distance in the Madison County game.
“We’re basically letting the two complete and whoever has the better week is going to get the call,” Lotti said. “We don’t change our offense up much. It’s good experience for (Holloway and Skinner). They’re both competing well and are getting better.
“Overall, we’re still trying to settle in and having to play some young kids. Going over there Friday night, we can’t help Clarke Central. They don’t need our help, and we need to go play a good, hard, clean game to have a chance to win. It’ll be a great environment in a place with a lot of tradition, and it’ll be good for our kids to experience.”