Very effective defensive play in the redzone Friday evening put Sylva-Bay Academy in control of its bout with visiting Bowling Green (La.) through the first half. But, costly mistakes and the turnover bug bit the Saints hard in the second half, and that made a huge difference in the final outcome.
Leading 14-0 at halftime, Sylva-Bay watched as the Buccaneers made the most of every opportunity the Saints left them on field. Bowling Green rolled off 20 unanswered points in the second half, including a 17-yard touchdown run with 1:28 left in the contest following a Saints' fumble, that eventually handed the Bucs a 20-14 homecoming-spoiling victory in Bay Springs.
“We shot ourselves in the foot with penalties and turnovers, or really stupid stuff,” Sylva-Bay head coach Terry Underwood said after the game. “You just can't do that kind of stuff against a quality team and expect to win, especially against an explosive team like them (Bowling Green) that can score. When you do things like that you give them hope. We are not the kind of team like that team that can overcome a bad play, but I take full responsibility for that.”
Two Sylva-Bay fumbles and three interceptions were heavy factors in the second half, including one fumble where the Saints were driving inside the Bowling Green 10-yard line and could have gone up two touchdowns late in the third quarter, but the score remained 14-8 at that point.
“We were in total control of the game, up 14-0 (at halftime), and I felt like we should have been up another touchdown, 21-0, in the first half. What tends to happen with this football team, because a lot of kids go both ways, is we'll play hard on defense and rest on offense,” Underwood explained. “That is something we have to overcome. I think we were a victim of that tonight. We made a lot of mistakes that killed us down the stretch. What we had was a team on the ropes, in my opinion, and we didn't go ahead and take advantage of it. Give them credit; they came back in and made enough plays (to win).”
The Saints opened the game with a 74-yard scoring drive that consumed nearly seven minutes off the first quarter game clock. Running back Jayvion Jones eventually got loose during the drive on a long run to the Bucs' 5-yard line, and quarterback Jacob Bowen finished the offensive series with a 2-yard touchdown run. Following a Raymond Morales extra point kick, the Saints led 7-0.
Sylva-Bay's defense through the night, especially during the first half, was pivotal and was tough. The Saints bent several times in the opening half, but did not break. Twice, Sylva-Bay stymied Bowling Green inside the redzone in the first half, once on a fourth-and-goal from the four-yard line late in the first quarter.
“I thought our defense played outstanding all night, all the way to the very end. They fought and scrapped all the way to the end,” said Underwood. “But, our offense was OK the first two drives, and after that we were inept.”
After denying Bowling Green any points with a fourth down stand at its own four-yard line late in the first quarter, Sylva-Bay put together a very quick 95-yard drive to go ahead two touchdowns in the second quarter. Jones found a crease to advance the Saints to its own 47-yard line. Bowen later hit Jones on a long pass to Bowling Green's 15-yard line. Jones then ripped off a run to the two-yard line, and capped the drive with a touchdown run. Morales remained perfect on the season kicking extra points as he tapped through number 21 to hand the Saints a 14-0 cushion.
Sylva-Bay's offense then went stale, but the defense kept dealing. The Saints, with just over six minutes left in the opening half, denied the Bucs on a fourth-and-short yardage situation at Sylva-Bay's 15-yard line. Later with 44.6 seconds remaining in the half and with Bowling Green driving, Sylva-Bay's Jaden Henderson picked off a Javon Bickham pass at the Saints' 36-yard line to void another Bucs' first half scoring threat, and Sylva-Bay carried its 14-0 advantage into the halftime locker room.
Bowling Green began the first offensive drive of the second half at its own 30-yard line. The Bucs drove deep into Sylva-Bay territory, but the Saints stepped up once again and denied a fourth down attempt at its 26-yard line, but the offense could not move the football. Bowen drove a beautiful, spiraling, long punt deep into Bucs' territory, but Bowling Green finally got on the scoreboard when Kengie Gordon capped a 75-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run, and following a successful two-point conversion Sylva-Bay held on to just a 14-8 lead with 3:08 left in the third quarter.
The Saints then put together a drive that began at its own 36 that had trouble, but Sylva-Bay worked through the kinks until near the end of the offensive series. On a third-and-long play, Jones hit the edge and weaved his way on a reverse run all the way to the Bowling Green 12-yard line. Then, the turnover bug bit big. Sylva-Bay fumbled away the football at the five-yard line on what likely could have been a touchdown scoring drive.
Things seemed to go downhill from there for the Saints offensively.
After forcing Bowling Green to a punt on the next series, Sylva-Bay could again not move the football and threw an interception on a third-and-very-long. The Bucs returned the pick to the Saints' 28-yard line, and tied the game when Bickham connected with Gordon on a 17-yard touchdown pass to tie the contest, 14-14, with 6:43 left in the game.
Sylva-Bay, in its second half downwardly offensive curve, fumbled the ball away again on the ensuing drive near midfield, and Bowling Green cashed in on yet another blunder for the game-winning score. On a fourth-and-two play with 1:58 remaining in the game, Bowling Green's Bickham found some room on the edge and scampered 17 yards for a touchdown.
Sylva-Bay had 1:19 to work with from midfield with no timeouts after a good kickoff return by Eli Blackwell to try and produce a touchdown to at least tie the game, but the Bucs picked off a long pass to end the game on the first snap of the series.
Tough loss against a higher classification school that Underwood feels his team should have beaten Friday night, but now back to the drawing board for the Saints, which could claim a district title, its third in consecutive years, next Friday night at Amite.
“We can win the district next week; it's something to shoot for, and it will be our chance to do it for a third year in a row and finish 3-7, which is not great year, but we can put ourselves in the playoffs and get a chance for a 'second season.' That's something we want to strive to do,” said Underwood. “That ought to be motivation enough for the team, I would hope, to win a district championship and to get into the playoffs, and be able to host a second round here. That's kind of what's in front of us.”
The Saints (2-7, 2-0) will travel to Amite School Center to face the Rebels (3-6, 1-1) next Friday night.