The North Tattnall Middle School (NTMS) Warriors hosted the Bryan County Middle School (BCMS) Redskins on Thursday, September 22, 2022.
North Tattnall’s record was 3-1, and Bryan County had a 0-3 slate. The Warriors were playing to qualify for the upcoming playoffs in the Southeast Georgia Middle School Football League. Both teams were not at full strength. The air temperature was at its hottest in three weeks. In middle school football, nothing stays the same week-to-week and day-to-day, everything changes. No one knew what this game would bring.
The Warriors deferred when they won the toss, represented by captains Elijah Harton and Matthew Waters, who had chosen teacher Justin Ray and Assistant Principal Beth Kennedy as the educators they honored before the game.
After Michael Bonilla skied the kickoff deep into Redskin territory, the Warriors claimed a turnover on the first play from scrimmage, as Demetrius Starnes recovered a fumble at the BCMS 45-yard line to set up the NTMS offense. After three tough inside runs by Keyon Calhoun, behind Waters, Starnes, Christian Butler, and Henrion Pridgeon gained eight yards, the Warriors were penalized for motion. Then the Warriors went around end, as Harton took a pitch from quarterback Lincoln Shuman down inside the BCMS 20-yard line behind blocks by Corey Steedley, Kenley Davis, and Akeem Jinks. Harton wasted no time on the next play, scoring on a 15-yard romp to the corner of the visiting end zone. L. Shuman, faking to Calhoun, ran to the opposite corner of the end zone, as Jinks made the corner leave the line of scrimmage to cover him.
The score stood at 8-0 with five minutes to go in the first quarter. An excellent kickoff by Bonilla and good coverage by the kickoff team, with Harton and Marcel Jackson forcing the edge and L. Shuman and Bonilla covering the middle, put the ball at the BCMS 22-yard line. The defense rose to the occasion as Jackson, Jack James, and Manuel Gonzalez made tackles for a loss on consecutive downs. On the ensuing BCMS punt, Harton, cautiously letting the ball bounce, picked it up and ran toward the home stands. Calhoun laid a crushing block on a stalking defender, then MJ Foreman sprinted ahead to pick off a would-be tackler, and Jack James applied the final key block for a 43-yard return that gave NTMS the ball at the BCMS 14-yard line. James, still breathing heavily from his block on Harton’s long punt return, sprinted around end on a quick reverse to find the end zone as the chair cheering group gave him a hand. The two-point pass was slightly off the mark, so the Warriors led, 14-0, with two minutes remaining in the first quarter.
The Warriors seemed to let up in the next series, as safety L. Shuman had to make a touchdown-saving tackle at midfield. On the next play from scrimmage, the Redskin halfback shrugged off an attempted tackle by the Warriors, and, with hand raised over his head, rambled for a 50-yard score, as the visiting stands came to their feet. The defense stood strong on the extra point, as Harton and James stopped the ball carrier at the one-foot line to keep the score at 14-6 with two minutes left in the half. Harton then tracked down the kickoff to get a solid 17-yard return on the shady far sidelines. Calhoun ground out some hard yards, after BC was called for face masking Foreman. Facing a long yardage situation after a loss on a sweep, Shuman found his deep receiver, Harton, open for a first down in Redskin territory.
After Calhoun found yardage inside and a long pass went off an open receiver’s fingertips, Harton took another pitch, cut back across the grain, using the official in the middle of the field as a blocker and wove his way into the end zone. Pridgeon made a spectacular one-handed catch at the edge of the end zone, as the chair cheering group applauded his effort. The score stood at 22-6 with 6:30 minutes to go in the half. Bonilla’s kick rolled to a stop at the BCMS eight-yard line, then Marcel Jackson stopped the return at the 14, giving NTMS great defensive field position. Again the defense stepped up, as Pridgeon prowled the line of scrimmage, James and Harton held their own as linebackers, and the brothers Shuman were ever ready in the secondary. On third and long, ML Foreman applied pressure on the passer and J’sai Cosper finished the job by covering the deep receiver and batting the pass away.
NTMS took over at midfield, trying to take advantage of the field position that the defense had given it. Calhoun rambled up the middle, then, as Steedley and Davis unlocked the gate to the sweep and Jinks opened it wide open, Harton coasted to his third touchdown down at the home sidelines. Calhoun again roared into the end zone for the two-point conversion to make the score 30-6 with three minutes left in the half.
The Warriors showed their youth and inexperience on the next series, as Bryan showed their pride - that they intended to play as tough as they could, no matter what the score was. The BCMS offense used a solid kick return, a missed tackle, and a busted coverage to put the ball inside the Warrior 10-yard line. Although NTMS held for three downs inside the two, BCMS finally cashed in for a touchdown with only 20 seconds left in the half to close within 30-12. Foreman’s great pressure on the two-point play prevented a completion. Although the offense picked up a first down, the Warriors ran out of time at the BCMS 40-yard line, as Harton ripped off another fine run.
The second half seemed to see the heat wear down the players on both sides, with cramps and minor injuries cropping up. The Warriors used up a great deal of the third quarter by riding the legs of Calhoun and Harton down the field, as the line of Steedley, Davis, Waters, Starnes, Butler, and Pridgeon became more consistent. On a third and goal, L. Shuman was hit from his blindside as he attempted to pass. His pass, intended for Pridgeon, was batted into the hands of the onside linebacker who had an open lane for a 100-yard interception return. The hometown fans were appalled as the white-clad 25 flashed down the sideline. James and L. Shuman pursued him, gaining ground, but another white jersey blocked (actually tackled) Shuman and screened out James just enough, it seemed for the returner to go all the way, but the smallest player on the field, Kenley Davis, had not given up on the play and stopped the return at the BCMS 20-yard line, after he sprinted diagonally about 100 yards.
Upon those hustling efforts and the penalty for holding, the Warrior defense kept the sheet clean for the second half. The rest of the game, as the sun went down, consisted of NTMS’s defense stopping the Redskin passing game from scoring and the offense trying to run down the clock. After a fourth-down pass fell short, Calhoun burst off tackle for a 25-yard gain and a first down. The Warrior reserves went in to finish the last minutes of the game. The efforts of Austin Montgomery, Owen Tucker, and Mason Myers stood out in the last seconds.
The Warriors, now at 4-1, are preparing for the playoffs as the fourth seed during their open week. Their last regular season game will be at Emanuel County Institute, in Twin City, on October 6. The players and coaches would like to invite all North Tattnall fans to support them in the boneyard.