JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Everyone at Bolles is well aware this is not the typical football season for the Bulldogs, with some surprising losses and tougher-than-expected wins.
But as the players and coaches point out, the goal is not a gaudy regular-season record, it’s playing through the end of November and into December.
And here we are, two weeks from December, and Bolles will be playing after Thanksgiving. The Bulldogs rode their defense, which stopped Raines three times on fourth down inside the Bolles 30 in Friday night’s region semifinal, including twice in the fourth quarter, on the way to a 14-7 victory in a slugfest at a misty Graveyard in the region 1-2M semifinal.
A hurry by Garrison Butler on fourth-and-13 from the Bolles 18 forced an incompletion and stopped a Vikings drive midway through the fourth. After a turnover, the Bulldogs held on a fourth-and-7 from their 27 when Trey Brown broke up a pass, which would have been good for a first down, with 47 seconds remaining.
Bolles (7-5) went into victory formation, while Raines (10-2) was out of the postseason.
Bulldogs coach Matt Toblin felt the entire season, with its difficult schedule and tough losses, led to the way his team played in tight moments against the top seed in the region.
“A lot of times you get into those situations, and kids, they stress, and the moment becomes too big,” Toblin said. “That’s why we play the type of schedule we play. We’ve been in tight games, and early in the year they went against us. They let the nerves, the moment, kind of consume us. But we’ve been in it so many times, we’re handling it better. Those kids are growing up and making big plays in big moments.”
For Bolles, seeded fourth in the region, the difficult schedule has paid dividends, with the team tested and together entering next week’s region final at third-seed Orlando Bishop Moore (9-3), which dealt Riverside a 37-35 defeat.
“There’s always one goal at Bolles, and it’s not to have a great regular-season record,” Toblin said. “That doesn’t matter. It’s what happens in the playoffs in November and potentially in December. We’re OK going and playing the best of the best in the regular season, even if it’s a loss, as long as we’re growing from it. I think winning this game is a byproduct of those regular-season battles.”
The five losses jump out, even for a Bolles team used to navigating tough schedules. But the records of those five teams that beat the Bulldogs are a combined 48-11 and all made the postseason, including St. Augustine and Coffee (Ga.), both still undefeated. Four of those teams still are alive in the postseason, as is Trinity Christian, which Bolles beat during the regular season.
That type of schedule, which featured four one-score losses, might have disheartened some teams. Instead, the Bulldogs thrived on it.
“We knew going in we had one of the toughest schedules in the city,” said Butler, the senior defensive lineman who had two sacks to go with that fourth-down hurry. “We knew it was a matter of us bonding, getting in and making a run in the playoffs like we are doing now.”
They was apparent during some of the difficult stages of the game. In addition to the fourth-down stops in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs stopped the Vikings on a 4th-and-12 from the Bolles 18 in the second quarter and had Troy Holloway block a 30-yard field goal in the third quarter.
Had the result gone the other way, Raines’ defense would receive praise for the way it handled big moments, including forcing three turnovers and giving its offense chances to pull out the game.
The Vikings set the tone from the start, holding on the Bulldogs’ first drive of the game when they stopped Bolles on a fourth-and-3 from the Vikings 11.
On the Bulldogs’ second possession, a timely hit from Mykel Reddick Jr. at the Raines 21 jarred the ball the grasp of tight end Corbyn Fordham and the ball landed in the arms of Jaylen Clark.
That type of game was to be expected
“This whole week, we knew it was going to be a tough game,” said Butler, who leads his team with nine sacks. “We knew it was going to be violent because they were going to hit us with everything they had. Big props to Raines. They played a great game, very physical.”
It was just a matter of someone breaking through. That happened when Bolles pressured the punter for a nine-yard punt, taking over at the Raines 23 with 2:14 left in the first quarter. Four plays later, Emmett Grzebin scored from seven yards for a 7-0 Bulldogs lead.
But the Vikings had their best possession of the night after two three-and-outs to open the game. Receiver Michael Singleton split two defenders and hauled in a 37-yard pass from Ty’ren Randolph to cap a seven-play, 80-yard drive and tie the game.
That was short-lived. On the second play of Bolles’ next possession, quarterback DJ Moore faked a handoff and an end around and found Chase Collier 10 yards behind the closest Raines defender for a 65-yard scoring pass and a 14-7 lead.
From that point, defense reigned. The Bulldogs managed only 60 total yards in the second half and had two critical turnovers. The first came following a blocked punt by Simeon Caldwell, allowing Bolles to take over at the Vikings 10 with 5:51 left in the third quarter.
But the next snap sailed over Moore’s head. His attempts to corral the rain-slick ball failed and, 25 yards behind the snap, Raines grabbed it to stop that threat.
The next miscue came as the Bulldogs put together their best drive since scoring in the first half. Bolles had stopped Raines following Butler’s pressure on Randolph, aided in big part by a dropped pass in the end zone on third down. Pushing inside the Vikings 40, the Bulldogs faced third-and-9. Moore, under pressure, rolled right and fired, but safety Jayden Taylor stepped in front of the pass and returned it to the Bolles 30 with 1:54 left.
The Vikings defense was doing all it could to save the game. But so was the Bulldogs defense. A 3-yard run, an incompletion and a scramble for no gain led to fourth-and-7 with 47 seconds left.
Randolph stepped up in the pocket and fired to his right. But Brown broke on the ball and perfectly timed a hit on the receiver to break up the potential first down.
The Raines players were in disbelief, having their season end with a seven-point loss to Bolles for the second year in a row.
On the other side, it was a celebration and the realization the Bulldogs were one step closer to December football.
“For me and my team, it means a lot to come into Raines and beat them, hold them to seven points,” Brown said. “We’re always together. We’ve been putting in the work all week. The work you put in when you get out, and we came in and performed.”
Bolles 14, Raines 7
Bolles, 7, 7, 0, 0 — 14
Raines, 0, 7, 0, 0 — 7
B – Emmett Grzebin 7 run (Luke Stenson kick)
R – Michael Singleton 37 pass from Ty’ren Randolph (Johnathan Downer-Barrett kick)
R – Chase Collier 65 pass from DJ Moore (Stenson kick)
Category: B — R
First downs: 12 —14
Rushes-yards: 37-68 — 34-82
Passing: 173 — 196
Comp-Att-Int: 11-18-1 —14-25-0
Fumbles-lost: 2-2 — 0-0
Penalties-Yards: 3-25 — 5-30
RUSHING — B: Grzebin 17-66, Tyrone Neal 9-26, Naeem Burroughs 2-8, Collier 4-3, Moore 1-(-4), Team 4-(-31). R: Mark Miller 14-43, Randolph 15-30, Raquez Bacon 5-9.
PASSING — B: Moore 11-18-1-173. R: Randolph 14-25-0-193.
RECEIVING — B: Collier 3-82, Corbyn Fordham 4-35, Grzebin 1-19, Max Lockett 1-17, Burroughs 1-16, William Green 1-4. R: Amari McIntyre 4-66, Jerris Andrews 5-50, Singleton 2-50, Davian Lucas 3-27.