BAINBRIDGE — Even though Central’s Yellow Jackets scored touchdowns on offense, defense, and with special teams, the defending and home-standing Region 1-AAAA champion Bainbridge Bearcats would not be denied Friday night in their 38-21 victory.
With the win, the Bearcats once again secured the region title.
Central took the early lead in the game when junior quarterback Sam Brown hit junior wide receiver Adam “AJ” Hopkins for a sparkling 42- yard touchdown pass in the first quarter that featured Hopkins jostling with a Bearcat defender and creating just enough space to find a way to make the catch and find the end zone. With Campbell Smith’s PAT, the Yellow Jackets led 7-0.
The lead was short-lived. On Bainbridge’s ensuing possession, the Bearcats built off a sophomore running back Keenan Phillips’ long run from their own 23-yard line all the way down to the Central 19. Four running plays later the Bearcats were in the end zone, and with the PAT the score was tied 7-7.
Bainbridge’s offense moved the ball solidly in the first half, scoring two more touchdowns to push the lead to 21-7 halfway through the second quarter.
But on the kickoff following their second score of the quarter, senior Yellow Jacket kick returner Tray Huewitt took the Bearcat kickoff at his own 12 yard line and found a seam along the Central sidelines. The Bearcat kicker had the best shot at the streaking Huewitt around the 50, but the arm tackle proved fruitless, and 88 yards later Huewitt was in the end zone. The PAT made the score 21-14.
On the Bearcats next possession the Yellow Jacket defense got in on the scoring. Junior Bainbridge quarterback Jahmarion Smith attempted to throw a quick pass out in the right flat to a Bearcat receiver when freshman phenom Dee Reddick stepped in front of the pass and took it untouched 38 yards for a Central touchdown. With the PAT, the game was tied 21-21 going in at the half.
“We fought back to be able to go into halftime with some momentum,” Central head coach Ashley Henderson said. “Those were big plays from Tray Huewitt on the kick return and then Dee Reddick with the pick six.”
Bainbridge accumulated 216 first half yards, and the tough Bearcat defense limited Central to 62.
Bainbridge opened the third quarter by driving down to the Central 8-yard line before the Yellow Jacket defense bowed their backs and forced the Bearcats into a field goal. The 24-yard kick was good, and Bainbridge took a 24-21 lead.
The Yellow Jackets rode the legs of senior running back Persean Taylor down the field on their next possession. However, the ball was dislodged from Taylor’s grip after a long run into Bearcat territory, in trying to extend the run with a Bainbridge defender riding his back. Bainbridge recovered the fumble at its own 32.
Five plays later, Smith lofted a beautifully thrown pass from the Central 38-yard line to a streaking Deyon Bouie. The senior 5-star Texas A&M commit had created just enough separation behind the Yellow Jacket defenders to catch the pass in the back of the end zone for the score, moving the lead to 31-21.
Central outgained Bainbridge 163-91 in the second half, but it wasn’t enough, as the Bearcats scored 17 unanswered points to close the game out. Taylor had another solid night running for Central with 126 yards on the ground as a bright spot for the Yellow Jackets, and as a team they were penalized only twice in the contest.
“Our defense gave up a couple of big plays and it was too much for us to overcome. We need to find a way to generate more production on offense, and we will,” Henderson concluded. “And we need to find a spark in the second half. But our boys played their hearts out.”
With the loss, Central falls to 5-4 on the season and will now close out the regular season next Friday night against the 7-2 Dougherty Trojans in Albany. A lot is riding on the game, as the winner will enter the state playoffs as the No. 3 seed from Region 1-AAAA, and the loser will be No. 4.
“We have a big game next week and we need to come out and play four quarters,” Henderson concluded. “We’ve got it in us, but we just need to find the right buttons to push.”