From the opening kickoff Friday, it was clear this was going to be Bradwell Institute’s night.
By the time it was over, the Tigers had won their first football game since 2013 by knocking off Tattnall County High School 30-20 in Hinesville.
First, Terrius Crimiel returned the opening kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown. Then, after the Tigers’ fell behind 12-7 on two Craige Saxton touchdown runs, they didn’t fold. Instead, BI (1-2) reclaimed the lead on Quin McMassey’s 1-yard run before the first quarter was out and never looked back as BI’s defense shut down the Warriors (1-2) until the fourth period.
By then, the game was out of reach.
"I’m so proud of our kids and coaches," said BI coach Greg Hill, the former Georgia Southern star who picked up his first regular season win as a head coach.
Ironically he couldn’t be on the sidelines, the result of a two-game suspension Hill is serving as a result of an infraction of GHSA rules he said occurred during offseason practice and was self-reported by BI, but their coach wasn’t far from them in spirit.
"I’m proud of them for sticking to the plan and believing in the process and getting the job done," Hill said.
It’s a big first step for a young coach who has almost
always won as a player, first as a rec league player, later as a high school standout in Florida, and then both while he was at Georgia Southern, where he quarterbacked the Eagles to the 1999 NCAA I-AA national title, and later in the CFL.
But Friday’s win wasn’t so much about Hill as it was about his players, especially his seniors, he said.
"Our kids, after that first year when we went 0-10, and then last year, I was just amazed how they continued to come to work and have a great attitude overall," Hill said. "That’s really been a blessing. At that age, when you’re haven’t faced adversity, sometimes the first thing you want to do is run from it, but these kids have stuck to it and continued to work hard."
Bradwell showed its mettle Friday night. The Tigers extended their lead to 21-12 in the second quarter on Imari Hurte’s 8-yard run and Delano Blue’s extra point. Blue drilled a 32-yard field goal before the half was over to put BI ahead 24-12, and then Hurte added a 13-yard TD run in the fourth period.
Saxton returned the ensuing kickoff 52-yards for a TD later in the period, but that was all the Warriors could muster. The Tigers outrushed and passed TCHS, finishing with 221 team rushing yards and 46 passing yards.
Quarterback Quinn McMassey was BI’s leading rusher, finishing with 73 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries while completing 4-of-7 passes for 46 yards.
Keron Mason finished with 16 carries for 60 yards and Hurte had 58 yards and two scores on five carries for Bradwell.
Tattnall County’s Saxton ran for a game-high 113 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries.
Defensively, Bradwell’s Curvontae Bryant led the team with 6 tackles, three assists and a tackle for a loss. Josh Ingram finished with three tackles and seven assists and also added a tackle for loss as BI held Tattnall County to just 195 yards of total offense.
Hill, who is allowed to run practices but won’t return to the sidelines until after next week’s Long County game, said he’s seen improvement, but knows the team has a long road ahead.
"We definitely made some mistakes," he said, after seeing film of the win Saturday. "There are some things to fix, some things we can clean up. We have to do a better job tackling, just do a better job on the fundamentals of tackling, on open field tackling, and we need to do a better job on kickoffs of handling our lanes, and we’ve got to take care of the football. We’ll continue to harp on the little things and get back to work on Monday, and get ready for next week.’
Bradwell has yet to play a region game, so Hill knows that means Bradwell has a clean slate where it counts.
So, those dreams of titles and the postseason every competitor has aren’t exactly finished, not even for a team coming off a two-season, two-game regular season losing streak.
"Our goal is to make it the playoffs, but at the same time I try to keep it in perspective. We want to go 1-0 at the end of the week each week," Hill said. "That’s how we go about it. But in the back of my mind, I know it’ll be great if Bradwell Institute can get back into the playoffs. The thing about playing our non region games early is it gives us an opportunity to get better each week, so by the time we step into the region part of our schedule hopefully we’re crisp and sharp."
In the meantime, credit the players and the coaches on his staff, he said, for not giving up.
"My hat’s off to those kids, especially those seniors who have been around through some tough times. I definitely want to tip my hat to them