Fresh off the kickoff classic win over George Jenkins, the Bartow High School Yellow Jackets rushed to the field Friday night to the official start of the new year. The opening opponent was a familiar foe, the Mulberry Panthers.
Last year, Bartow opened their year with a 20- 6 win in Mulberry. Friday they topped them 16-10.
On their first possession, Bartow started strong with an 8-yard run, but could not get the first down on two subsequent carries. Bartow attempted to draw Mulberry offsides, but ended up with a delay of game, backing them up to the 24. Michael Walker’s punt went out of bound just short of midfield.
It took Mulberry one play to score when Rashad Parrish hauled in a 49 yard pass from Jarius Garner and ran untouched to the end zone. The kick was good to give Mulberry a 7-0 lead with 2:11 gone in the first period.
Bartow managed two first downs in its next drive, but had to punt the ball away with kicker Alex Montes doing the honor. Montes was able to send up a 34 yarder to put Mulberry at their 25. They managed to cross midfield, facing a fourth and short at the 41. A bad snap forced the quarterback to hunt down the loose ball in the backfield. He recovered, but Bartow got the ball with good field position. Bartow got it to the 20 before time expired in the first quarter.
On the first play of the second quarter, quarterback Dimitri Leverett found Roy’Qies Graham as the defender slipped. Graham waltzed into the end zone for the 20-yard touchdown, but the extra point attempt failed. With seven seconds gone in the second, Bartow trailed, 7-6.
Mulberry moved the ball to the 41, but coughed it up on a running play. Linebacker Freddie Stevenson scooped it up and returned it to the 35. Walker toted it up the middle for a gain of nine before a Bartow offensive penalty backed the Jackets up to the 32. Leverett found Jeremy Williams on a quick slant that saw Williams juke his way to the end zone. Montes was able to convert the extra point to put Bartow out front, 13-7. The touchdown came at 9:10, Bartow’s second TD in less than three minutes.
Mulberry had to punt from the 20 and the kick came to Eric Rookard near midfield. Rookard was able to run down the far sideline, nearing the 20 yard line. he was hit and the ball popped 20 feet into the air and a Mulberry player fielded it. essentially, Mulberry got the ball back at the same spot where they had run their last play. Mulberry kept it on the ground, but with consequences. Quarterback Jarius Garner went to the sidelines, replaced by Austin Strickland. A favorable spot on fourth kept the drive alive to no avail for the Panthers. Bartow defender John Kilpatrick caught the Mulberry quarterback for a 12 yard loss and forced a Mulberry punt. After a questionable call against Bartow, the Jackets were backed up to the 20 and couldn’t get anything goi. They turned the ball over to the Panthers with 16 seconds left. The Panther pass ended up in the hands of Bartow defender Johnathan Battle, who fell at the 5. Leverett ran for 10 yards to end the half.
Mulberry started the second half with the ball and had just moved the chains when the Panthers fumbled and Bartow recovered. The Jackets started getting chunks of yardage, but the drive stalled at the 4. Montes trotted onto the field for a chip shot 21 yarder, adding three more to the Bartow total. With 7:01 to go in the third, Bartow led 16-7.
Bartow held on the next drive, forcing a Mulberry punt. The kick was muffed by Rookard and Mulberry picked it up, running for what was thought to be a touchdown. Rules do not allowed for advancing a muffed punt, so the ball was brought back to the 45. Mulberry kept possession, but failed to advance. Another Mulberry punt brought several penalties and Bartow set up shop at the 20. They ran six plays with the last play of the quarter resulting in a Michael Walker fumble. Mulberry took over only 38 yards from their end zone.
Mulberry quarterback Garner fired up his team with a 24 yard keeper, but came up with a leg injury and left the game. On third down, Bartow held, but defender Romante Bell had to be helped off the field. The Panthers elected to kick a 23 yard field goal to cut the lead to 16-10 with 9:43 to play.
Rookard’s 27 yard kickoff return allowed Bartow to start their drive at the 32 and the Jackets hustled into Mulberry territory, chewing up the clock in the process. Bartow was knocking on the door with a first down at the 10. Leverett attempted to hook up with Williams on a slant, a play that had worked well. The ball popped up and an alert defender intercepted with 4:52 to go. Mulberry was 95 yards away from adding to their score and needed to move quickly. After an initial 20 yard gain. There were no more positive yards and Mulberry was forced to punt. Bartow inherited good field position with less than three minutes to play. The heat started taking its toll as players were cramping after each play. Bartow kept the ball on the ground to chew up the clock, but surprised the dense when Leverett hooked up with Williams again for another score, but it didn’t count. Bartow was called for a penalty, so instead, Bartow got the ball on the 20. Leverett’s pass found a Mulberry defender for another turnover. The Bartow defense came calling, sacking the quarterback as the clock hit 1:00. Garner scrambled for 30 yards to give Mulberry hope, but Quincy Childs sacked the QB for a loss of six. The final play saw Rookard knock down the quarterback and Bartow claimed a 16-10 win. Bartow will return home to meet the Bloodhounds of Auburndale next Friday. Game time is 7 p.m.