The Bartow Yellow Jackets football team returns to district play Friday night, hosting the Kathleen Red Devils at Bartow Memorial Stadium in its homecoming game. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Bartow endured a heartbreaking loss last week in a visit to Fort Meade. The Miners prevailed, 31-28, after a Diego Maldonado field goal sealed the deal with less than a minute to play.
“It was everything you expect in a rivalry football game,” stated Bartow head coach Jason Butler during Monday night’s public session at Beef ‘O’Brady’s. “Offensively, we had worked on what didn’t work against George Jenkins and had a better showing. Defensively, we gave up some big plays. When it came down to the end, there were some overthrows and missed connections, but it was what you would expect a Fort Meade-Bartow game to be. The team just has to learn to be able to pull out the victory when they get in a situation like this.”
While no one is making excuses for the outcome, it was plenty obvious that the breaks of the game were not going to go in favor of the Jackets. When Fort Meade fumbled the opening kickoff but still scored a touchdown on the play, it would have been easy just to throw in the towel at that point. Bartow’s offense came onto the field and answered, scoring a touchdown on their first possession. Bartow defenders were in perfect position on a long touchdown pass, but the receiver somehow came away with the ball in the end zone. The play required a perfect throw and a perfect catch and it happened.
“Our defense was swarming to the ball,” he said. “The game was played in a great atmosphere and hopefully the players, especially the seniors, got the most of it.”
Running back Tyreese Cruz, who teetered near the 100 yards gained mark in the first half, gained offensive player of the game honors. The defensive backfield was called upon for many stops as Keyshawn Martin led the team in tackles.
This week, Kathleen comes to town with a stellar 4-1 record. The Red Devils, long a district rival, have had Bartow’s number for several years with the last Bartow win on the field coming in 2002. Kathleen needed overtime for the second time this season to secure a win, this time over Winter Haven. A previous win against Lake Gibson required multiple extra periods before a 45-44 outcome. Kathleen has also beaten Centennial and Ridge while losing to First Academy.
“We expect to see them (Kathleen) do a lot of running,” said Butler. “They are better this year than we have seen them in the past. They have one player, number 13, who has already committed to Virginia Tech. He plays everywhere. He scored the game winning touchdown, then went on defense and took the ball away, handed it to the ref like he was saying this game is over. Their quarterback is athletic and their defense is a lot like ours. They run to the ball very well.”
Butler again acknowledged the support of the community and the meaning it has to the team and its players.
“We’re going to be honoring Marcus Floyd at this week’s game and we’d love to see everyone come out Friday. Let’s give the Red Devils something to think about.” Floyd was a Yellow Jackets star player in the 1990s.