It was unfamiliar territory for Mary Persons, and the stakes were pretty high.
For the first time since the Bulldogs played Peach County way back on Sept. 15, the Bulldogs found themselves trailing early in the second half of Friday night’s GHSA Class 4A second round state playoff game against Baldwin.
But Mary Persons didn’t flinch. The Bulldogs simply shut down the visiting Braves, holding them to 56 offensive yards in the second half as Mary Persons scored 30 unanswered points to pull away in a 39-14 victory. The Bulldogs threw the ball just twice in the second half, capping a night in which quarterback J.T. Hartage ran for a pair of scores with Quen Wilson and Bralen Harvey also rushing for a score.
Five who mattered
Hartage: The Bulldogs signal-caller may have been off the mark at times in the first half, completing five out of 11 passes, but he made up for it with his feet. He found the seam on a busted play in the first quarter, and 33 yards later his run down the sideline was good for a 7-0 Mary Persons lead. He also broke loose for a 66-yarder in the fourth quarter that put the game even more out of reach by way of a 34-14 Mary Persons lead. On just five carries, he had 126 yards on Friday.
Harvey: One half of the Bulldogs running back tandem had a strong night. His hard running may have been slowed by the Braves in the second half as they stacked the box, but he still mounted 149 yards on 16 carries. The big highlight came late in the third quarter, a 54-yard blast to extend the Bulldogs lead to 24-14.
Wilson: His slashing running style also combated what Baldwin was trying to do defensively. He carried the ball 17 times, gaining 107 yards. His 16-yard run up the middle through the heart of the Braves defense put the Bulldogs up for good 17-14 with 6:38 to play in the third quarter.
Alexander Rivera: Helped extend the Mary Persons lead with field goals of 27 and 25 yards.
Torez Hicks: His ability to make throws on the run coupled with his ability to roll out of tackles kept the Bulldogs on their toes on Friday. He passed for 144 yards and ran for 36, his biggest throw being on the second play from scrimmage in the second half when he connected with Ja’Tavious Tucker for a 68-yard touchdown for a 14-9 Baldwin lead.
Baldwin trailed 27-14 in the fourth quarter but appeared well on its way to pulling within a score as Hicks found Noah Hill on a tunnel screen. Hill ran the ball inside the Mary Persons 10 yard line before fumbling. The Bulldogs recovered, and Hartage’s 66-yard run one play later put the game away.
Still running: Baldwin acted as if they knew Mary Persons was going to run the ball in the second half, putting seven to eight players in the box. But with a determine Bulldogs offensive line and the running of Wilson and Harvey, it didn’t matter as Mary Persons still got its chunks of yardage.
Cleaning it up: Neither team put on crisp display of football in the first half with the first two quarters being marked by multiple penalties and nearly lost fumbles. That changed in the second half, partially due to Mary Persons controlling the game’s tempo with its ground game.
Safety Times Two: The Mary Persons defense walked away with another feather in its cap on Friday as it scored not one, but two safeties. The first came via a high snap and Hicks being forced out of the back of his own end zone. The other, in the fourth quarter came thanks to Hicks being pressured into an intentional grounding penalty in his own end zone by a furious rush from the Bulldogs defensive front.
They said it
Mary Persons head coach Brian Nelson on the Bulldogs making plays to change momentum on Friday: “I’ve been saying all week that the team that executes the best and makes the least amount of mistakes is going to win. In the first half, that wasn’t us. We made a bunch of mistakes and didn’t execute. It’s 9-7, we’re up, and we have to get a stop and what do they do? They score and we’re down. It’s been a bunch of weeks since we’ve been behind in a football game. So we had to respond.”
Nelson on the game’s direction changing on Friday: “The offense got it right back down and it seemed to give us a little momentum. We got a stop on defense and then, boom, we scored again. It kind of just got us rolling. It took us a while to get to that, but I’m just proud of our kids for fighting and persevering through some things and finding away to get it done.”
Mary Persons hosts Jefferson next week in the GHSA Class 4A quarterfinals.