Bainbridge head coach Jeff Littleton
BAINBRIDGE -- It took Bainbridge 113 minutes and 29 seconds to score its first touchdown of 2013.
Turns out, points have a way of lighting a fire under a team.
The Class AAAAAA Bearcats (2-1), who hadn't found the end zone in their first two games of the season (3-0 win vs East Gadsden in Week 1 and 6-0 loss to Cairo last Friday), finally got there midway through the second quarter Friday when quarterback Preston Norris beat the entire Early County defense and found receiver Shuwon Gardner wide open. Gardner hauled in the pass over his shoulder and streaked down the field untouched for a 70-yard score.
A missed extra point didn't matter -- after nine quarters and counting, the Bearcats were, at long last, finally on the board. And they never looked back, romping to a 26-0 win against the Class AA Bobcats on Friday night at the Bearcat Den.
"Was I worried? Kinda," Norris said when asked how concerned he was when the first quarter came and went with Bainbridge still not finding the end zone. "We just couldn't get it going (in those first two games). We were just trying, trying ... Couldn't get nothing on the board. It was very frustrating. But we just kept our heads up."
Norris finished 6-for-9 passing for 107 yards and a score, while Aaron Calloway led the Bearcats in rushing with 18 carries yards, 68 yards and two TDs. It was Bainbridge's sixth straight win in the series and new Bearcats coach Jeff Littleton's first taste of the rivalry. He said he never lost confidence in his guys and knew they'd show him why Friday.
"The second half of the Cairo game last week, we started running the ball a lot more effectively, playing better. So I knew it was coming," said the former Cairo defensive coordinator who left the Syrupmakers this offseason for his first head coaching gig in Bainbridge. "That's a credit to the kids for staying together, fundamentally getting better this week in practice and it showed (Friday night)."
Early dominated time of possession in the first half, 16:31 to Bainbridge's 7:29. But a 20-yard sack and two failed fourth downs in the red zone stalled long Bobcat drives each time. Bainbridge, meanwhile, struck on its second chance with the football, going for the haymaker on Norris' fourth pass of the game early in the second quarter, and Bainbridge's defense held from there, taking a 6-0 lead to halftime on Carter's grab.
"Coach told me that if I run routes right, put myself in position, then I'll score touchdowns," said Carter, who led the Bearcats with two catches for 82 yards. "You gotta believe in your offense and defense to make plays. Our defense has been great, and (tonight) we finally did our thing on offense."
Bainbridge's defense hasn't just been great, it's been phenomenal, posting two shutouts in three games and allowing just six points against state power Cairo. The Bearcats had three sacks and seven tackles for loss Friday, holding Early to just 159 yards of total offense.
Early's offense, which went wild in last week's 27-0 win against Miller County, couldn't go anywhere in the third quarter as one of its drives resulted in a three-and-out, another ended in a pick and a third was doomed when punter Gerald Tolbert dropped the snap in the end zone and turned it over to Bainbridge on its 9-yard line. Two plays later, Calloway made Early pay, rumbling in for the score. This time, All-Region kicker Daniel Provence was perfect on the PAT to put Bainbridge up, 13-0, with 3:32 to play in the third.
The Bobcats would threaten twice more in the fourth, but quarterback Miles Norman was intercepted twice, the first time by Carter and the second time by Cedrick Jones.m
Early County coach Trey Woolf said first-year starter Norman, a sophomore, is still a work in progress, but he's excited about the upside.
"We moved the ball early but couldn't get it in the end zone," Woolf said of Norman's and the Bobcats' failure to get any points. "This is really the first time we were in a position where we had to throw it. It's just a work in progress. None of the receivers he's throwing to have played much. None of the linemen have either. So we'll give it some time. The kids are trying hard. It'll be fine."
With less than 35 seconds to play, Calloway added the first exclamation point from 6 yards out and Craig Cooper really put a stamp on the win with a 42-yard pick-6 with 10 seconds left for the 26-0 final.
"I couldn't not score, man," Cooper said of whether he considered taking a knee or running out of bounds ahead 20 points with seconds left. "After those first two weeks, we needed those points."
NOTES: Local Super Bowl XLII hero James Butler, a Climax native and former safety for Georgia Tech and the New York Giants, was in attendance Friday for the game and rooting on his alma mater Bainbridge ... Early's last win in the series was 2007, a 20-13 final ... The Bobcats were led offensively by Jaylin Bryant, who 32 yards rushing and 40 yards receiving ... Bainbridge plays next week at Class AAAAAA Westlake, while Early hosts Class A Calhoun County.