Bulloch Academy dominated First Presbyterian Christian Academy in the season opener for both teams as the Gators handed the Highlanders a 37-0 defeat Friday night at Long Bell Stadium in Hinesville.
The Gators scored their first touchdown off a 25-yard pass completion from quarterback Lanier Olliff and a scamper down the sideline by Hunter Perry, making the total pass 60 yards with 3 minutes, 4 seconds to go in the first quarter.
Their second touchdown was a 54-yard open run by Tyler Budgett in the opening quarter’s final minute to give the Gators a quick 14-0 advantage.
The visiting team then fielded an onside kick and scored their third touchdown off a 35-yard pass play, with Olliff again hooking up with Perry. They missed their extra-point attempt but had a formidable 20-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Later in the quarter, the Gators were pinned deep in their own territory but marched downfield for their third touchdown, a 6-yard run by Budgett, and Davis Childs ran in two-point conversion to make the score 28-0.
Adding salt to the wound was the Gators’ defensive score when Highlander Dylan Stewart attempted to punt the ball deep from inside his own 5-yard line. The snap went over Stewart’s head, and the Gators scored the safety to go into the half up 30-0.
The third quarter saw the Gators earn their last touchdown of the night, a 49-yard run by Tyce Lovett, for the final margin.
But the lopsided scoring doesn’t tell the whole tale. The Highlanders looked bright in spurts.
There was Stewart’s 40-yard return of the opening kickoff setting up his offense at midfield. Stewart finished with 32 yards rushing on 11 carries and completed 2 of 10 passes for 84 yards, along with an interception.
Running back Sensier Carnes kept his feet moving as he broke tackles, bounced off opposing players and kept finding the seam for short positive gains.
There were the three times when the Highlanders held the Gators from scoring from inside the 10. This same strong FPCA defensive front kept the Gators in check for the entire second half other than the one touchdown run.
Highlander Jimmy Ouyang played well for the offense and defense, stuffing one potential touchdown run and showing great speed with the ball in his hands.
Stewart showed why he was last year’s player of the year playing at the quarterback spot, punting and playing defense.
The Highlanders came close to scoring off a 40-yard pass from Stewart to Josh Armour, who gained 84 yards on two catches in the game. Armour and Ouyang filled in at quarterback a few snaps when Stewart needed a rest or was recovering from a hit.
Highlander Austin Hendrix stuffed a run in the middle. He took a big hit, which stung, but he jumped back up gritted his teeth and ran back on the field for the next play.
Overall, the Highlanders showed their fortitude and “can-do” spirit.
The scoring difference came in the small details.
Three Highlander punts were too high and barely netted 10 yards each.
There was some miscommunication lining up for the kicks, and there were too many delay-of-game calls against FPCA. In all, the Highlanders lost 40 yards on six penalties.
“Well, I think I know what we need to work on,” FPCA head coach Terry Middleton said as the Highlanders lined up for a kickoff.
FPCA knew Bulloch would come out firing on all cylinders. After all, the Gators finished 7-5 last year and beat FPCA 48-6.
Erase the few mental mistakes normally chalked up to playing the first game of the year, and the Highlanders did well. Their seasoned veterans played as expected. The newcomers earned their first hard-knock hits.
No one appeared seriously hurt after the game, other than a few egos. The coach spoke to his players, reminded them there was plenty of football left for the year and asked them to keep their heads up and move forward.
FPCA hosts Briarwood Academy at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
This report contains information from the Statesboro Herald.