The Bartow High School Yellow Jacket football squad took care of what is probably their longest road trip of the season last week and brought along a good number of team supporters. The destination was Frostproof for the Kickoff Classic and the return trip to Bartow was made better by a 14-7 Jacket win.
With threatening skies that would eventually end the game about eight minutes from full completion, Bartow captains DJ Daughtry, Dimitri Leverett, John Kilpatrick and Phillip Schoch marched out to the coin toss to face their foes. Bartow won the toss and elected to defer possession to the third quarter, giving Frostproof the ball.
Kicker Alex Montes sent the ball sailing to the end zone for a touchback and the Bartow defense took the field. Bartow was stunned by a 48-yard gain by Frostproof’s Cecil Cherry on the second play of the game, but caught a break when the play was called back for a block in the back. The Frostproof penalty would be the first of many in the contest. Bartow’s defense took full advantage of the opportunity, allowing only four more plays. The Jacket offense would set up shop at the 36 following a Bulldog punt.
Leverett started off running with a quick seven-yard gain. To keep the defense on their toes, Leverett hooked up with Tre Jordan on a seven-yard pass to move the chains. Tyreese Cruz got in on the action with a short gainer before back-to-back double digit gains on running plays by Daughtry and Devon McCoy. The Frostproof defense stymied a pass attempt, sacking Leverett for a nine-yard loss, but the nimble QB answered by scampering for 11 and gaining nine more to be inches short of a first down at the 5-yard line. Facing fourth down, Bartow was able to entice Frostproof to leave early and the offsides gave Bartow a new set of downs at the 3. They needed only one play as Daughtry cleared the goal line, running left. Montes added the extra point and Bartow gained the early 7-0 lead.
Frostproof managed only one first down on the next drive as the Bartow defenders maintained the pressure, including good downfield coverage. Jordan signaled a fair catch on the punt that gave Bartow its next possession at the 27. Cruz busted up the middle and raced into the Frostproof secondary for a long gain. As he was being tackled, Cruz had the ball punched free and the scramble ensued. Bartow was able to recover and the play gained 42 yards. A few short gainers led to a fourth down and desire to keep the drive moving. Leverett’s pass to Jordan was tipped and picked off by Lamar Bobb of Frostproof with less than a minute remaining in the first quarter. Frostproof ran two plays in the first quarter and two plays in the quarter before giving the ball back. The last play of the first quarter saw the Bartow defense swarm Frostproof runner Trevis Herrington for a loss.
With a 7-0 lead, Bartow’s offense wanted to establish itself as one with multiple weapons. Leverett went back to pass, but was hit and fumbled the ball. Another scramble took place 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage and the Jackets were fortunate to fall on the ball at the 3. Cruz’s short run was helped by a Frostproof unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Leverett carried for 10 more, but it still put Bartow in a fourth-and-five at their own 30. The decision was made to go for it, but the pass to Jordan was broken up, giving Frostproof the ball 30 yards from paydirt.
It didn’t take the home team long to seize the opportunity. On the first play, Jarviel Hart took a pass in the backfield, slipped by two tacklers that would have ended the play for a loss, and rambled 30 yards for a score. The extra point knotted the game at 7-all.
Bartow answered quickly. Leverett faked the pitch and carried for 16 yards and a new set of downs. Cruz added a trio of runs to get the Jackets on the scoring side of midfield. Momentum was halted by a couple of broken plays for a loss, setting up a third-and-16. Leverett dropped to pass and pump faked, which caught the defensive back off guard. It allowed Jordan to streak past, five yards beyond the closest defender. Leverett laid the pass right on the mark and Jordan waltzed in for a 46 yard strike. Montes added the kick conversion to give the Jackets a 14-7 advantage.
Frostproof tried to mount an answering drive, moving to the 21 before back-to-back penalties moved them back. A pass play pushed Frostproof to the shadow of the goal line, but a personal foul after the play sent the ball back. The first down counted as less than a minute remained in the half. Frostproof moved ahead again, but soon found a fourth down at the 23. The Bulldogs fumbled and Bartow took over for the final play of the half.
Officials were keeping a close eye on the weather situation as the players returned for the second half. Bartow would get the ball to open the stanza, putting up a sustained six-minute drive that resulted in the first punt of the game by Montes. The boot pinned Frostproof to the 15, but the Bulldogs started to move with a 15-yard gainer. Their drive would stop on the next play as Bartow swarmed running back Kaleel Gaines, who fumbled and a number of Jackets were there to keep Frostproof from regaining the pigskin.
With field conditions diminishing due to the arrival of rain, players were finding it tough to make cuts. Bartow’s drive opened with a Cruz run on a pitch out, but Frostproof wasn’t fooled. Cruz stayed down and was helped from the field, replaced by Troy Jones. On the next play, Leverett carried the ball and was tackled. A Bartow player determined the defense put on a few too many hits and retaliated, only to be called for the penalty. The play also saw Leverett helped from the field with Cody Whitaker taking over as quarterback. Jones ran for a short gain before Montes kicked the ball away.
Frostproof couldn’t get anything going and sent the ball back to the Jackets after three plays. Bartow, with Leverett back at the helm, found itself in the same boat, punting after three plays. Bartow’s defense swarmed the Frostproof running back on second down to set the stage for another quick Bulldog drive as play moved to the fourth quarter.
With Bartow driving for a potential score, school officials contacted game officials about impending lightning. The game was called a Bartow win with about eight minutes remaining and fans and teams were asked to leave the stadium.
“They were physically mean and we answered them,” said coach Jason Butler following the game. “We started slow in the third quarter, but we were making some plays. Toward the end, we were finding that our receivers could get wide open. The offense could have exploded, which is a good sign.”
Butler had praise for the efforts on both sides of the ball. “Right before halftime, the defense really stepped up,” he said. “We kept them out of the end zone when they were driving and that stop ended up helping us win the game.”
Bartow will hit the road Friday to open the regular season. The Jackets will travel to Auburndale to take on yet another “dog” team in the Bloodhounds. Auburndale’s scheduled Kickoff Classic contest game was cancelled due to weather. Friday’s game starts at 7 p.m.