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The hours of practice in the hot summer sun are starting to yield results with the Bartow Yellow Jacket football team. With the past few weeks focusing on “game like” situations, the focus shifted to an actual game for the annual Kickoff Classic pre-season game. When the Bartow team lined up, it wasn’t against each other, but a real opponent Friday night.
The schedule makers gave Bartow a chance to avenge a loss in last year’s pre-season game, pitting the Jackets against George Jenkins. Last year, at Jenkins’ home field, Bartow fell 24-12 in what would prove to be Jenkins’ only win, officially going 0-10 while Bartow logged a 3-7 record. Those were all in the past with the slate wiped clean, but the memory very real. This year, the scene was reversed with Bartow having home field. Once again, the home team came out on top with Bartow nailing down a 16-7 win.
The pre-season game has a few purposes that transcend the scoreboard. Coaching staffs are still evaluating talent and getting this talent into real life situations is a bonus. It provides vindication for your planning if you have correctly anticipated what your opponent is throwing at you, letting you know that you can confidently predict what your opponent will show in the future. Bartow’s 2012 schedule is a mirror image of 2011, changing only the field of play with last year’s road games becoming home games and vice versa.
While the crowd number was smaller than expected for a regular season game, there was no shortage of enthusiasm from the cheerleaders or band members. It was clear the team was fired up through the pre-game drills. It appeared the team was ready for the test.
The game started with each team failing to convert on their first possession. Bartow got the ball back and used the good field position to set up for a 40-yard field goal attempt by kicker Alex Montes. The team’s new kicker had impressed spectators at the spring game and did nothing to change their view by knocking the ball through the uprights, giving Bartow a 3-0 lead with 5:57 to play in the first quarter.
The teams traded the ball a few more times without a scoring threat. When Jenkins got the ball back after a Bartow three-and-out, the Jenkins runner was nailed by linebacker Brandon Carey, who jarred the ball loose. Defensive back Tevin Young fell on it, giving Bartow their first turnover of the game. The Jackets couldn’t capitalize at the end of the first quarter, but Jenkins seemed dedicated to focus on basics. A good drive with a mixture of pass plays and runs that put Jenkins on top with a touchdown run on an option play. Bartow attempted a field goal to close the second half, but went to the locker room trailing 7-3.
Throughout the regular season in 2011, Bartow did not score an offensive touchdown in the third quarter of any game. The chain of events on Friday bodes well for that becoming a thing of the past. Bartow regained the lead when Michael “Chicken” Walker scampered 40 yards on an option play. The kick by Montes made it 10-7. With that score in play, Bartow soon found themselves in position for another long field goal attempt. On the play, Jenkins rushed hard, crashing into kicker Montes, who suffered an injured ankle. The penalty gave Bartow an automatic first down that became six more points a few plays later when Dimitri Leverett rolled left, pulled down the ball and outraced three different defenders to the end zone. The two-point conversion failed, but Bartow had a 16-7 lead that proved to be the final score.
There was a smile on the face of Coach Brett Biggs as he relived the game. “I am really proud of the effort,” he said. “We have to get our execution of certain things to be fast and make sure we have our assignments right. We need to hit quicker and make sure our routes are run faster.”
The defenses on both sides of the ball had a lot of positives. Both were quite capable of putting on some big hits with Bartow’s Darius Jackson, Romante Bell and Khalil Holt having some big plays for negative yards for the Eagles. “We haven’t had to work on tackling,” said Biggs. “These guys are out there to do the job.”
A focus of the coaching staff continues to be the reduction of penalties. Bartow had far fewer than Jenkins and most of the penalties were on special teams. The offensive penalties were reduced drastically. The turnover battle was another matter in favor of the Jackets. In addition to Young’s fumble recovery, defensive back Joseph Townes plucked a tipped ball from the sky and returned it to kill a Jenkins drive. Bartow only lost the ball once, a fumble on a punt in the second half.
The regular season opens Friday and the coaching staff has a much more clear understanding of the character of the 2012 Yellow Jackets. Bartow will have its next two games at home (Friday against Mulberry and the next week against Auburndale) and these could be exciting games as both Mulberry and Auburndale won their kickoff classics, playing teams that will also face the Yellow Jackets in 2012 (Mulberry beat Fort Meade and Auburndale beat Lake Region). Game time is 7 p.m.