With rain coming down on the field, the Mary Persons Bulldogs watched their season slip away at the hands of Marist by a score of 10-7 in the quarterfinal of the state playoffs.
The loss was tough for a team that had earned a top seed by going a perfect 10-0 in the regular season and seemed to be cruising through the playoffs with a pair of blowout victories.
Head coach Brian Nelson says that this is a new team and they are ready to get to work this season.
“Most of the guys we got on our team didn’t even play in that game,” Nelson said. “I think every year that we’ve approached that it is a different team… We really haven’t talked about it too much.”
A season ago, the Bulldogs dominated in all facets of the game. They outscored opponents by 452 points. The closest game all season was a 14 point win over Peach County. The most they ever allowed in a single game was 21 points.
But it is a new team this season, as the Bulldogs must replace 17 starters in total on offense and defense. Nelson will be looking to capture his fifth straight region title this season and despite the turnover, goals of postseason success have not changed.
“I don’t think the expectations ever change,” Nelson said. “The expectations are always high.”
The team will be tasked with replacing the duo of quarterback J.T. Hartage and running back Quen Wilson. The pair combined for 49 total touchdowns and nearly 5,000 yards of total offense. Nelson said he is hoping that he has some guys on the team that are up to the task of stepping into those roles.
“Sometimes that can be easier said than done,” he said. “We just hope that we got guys that are willing to step up and take advantage of their opportunity.”
Gainesville on August 23 at 7:30 p.m.
The opening game could set the tone for the season as Mary Persons will look to get off to a good start.
“It will be real big. It is exciting and scary at the same time,” Nelson said. “That will be 17 guys starting their first varsity football game.”
Nelson said it will be a good chance to see the development of some of his younger guys on display. It will also allow them to make adjustments going forward as they try to find a groove early on in the season
Peach County on Sept. 20 at 7:30 p.m.
Nelson said that they don’t have any games circled on the calendar as they are taking it one game at a time. However, football fans in the Middle Georgia area should circle it on theirs as this could be one of the best games of the season in the area.
Last season, Peach County gave Mary Persons its toughest regular-season game as the Bulldogs won 35-21.
The Trojans looked like they were on the verge of an epic comeback when senior Daniel Lavelle turned a forced fumble into a 32-yard scoop-and-score for the touchdown. Peach County went on to make the state title game last season and will return another championship-level team this year.
By the time these two teams meet, Mary Persons will have a few games under its belt and hopefully provide another instant classic between these two.
“I think it is going to be real important for this team to continue to get better every week,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen this season. There might be some roadblocks.”