The excitement of two unbeaten teams meeting was enough to draw a big crowd as Bartow prepared to host Fort Meade last night. The excitement had to wait a bit though as bad weather rolled in just before kickoff, delaying the start of the annual Highway 17 Bowl.
And, at the end, Fort Meade remained the undefeated team with a 12-8 victory over the Yellow Jackets in Bartow.
The fans started making their way to their seats at 7, but the kickoff was delayed until 7:30 to give the teams the necessary time to warm up. A light rain continued to fall throughout the period.
Bartow chose to receive the opening kickoff as the rain remained steady. Both sides were anticipating a slick and sloppy field especially near the goal lines. Bartow fumbled on the first exchange from center, but recovered. The game steadied from that point, but Bartow punted to Fort Meade who faced a fourth and one at the 40 and powered through for a new set of downs.
Facing third and long, Miners QB Jay Smith found Malik Brown for 12 and a first down. On their next third down, Fort Meade sent in Isham Alexander who took the snap with Smith in the slot. Alexander marched down the left side for a 9 yard gain, putting Fort Meade in the red zone. After a penalty and loss moved the ball to the 24, Smith unloaded to find Chris Morris open and Morris waltzed into the end zone. Jack Cortez tacked on the kick to put Fort Meade on top with 5:19 to play in the opening quarter.
Bartow faced another three and out situation, using up just 2 minutes on the clock. The short punt let Fort Meade open on the 35. Devante Clark was snowed under for a 5 yard loss by Bartow’s Romante Bell. Clark got 10 the next time, but Ryan Fulse was stopped by the Jacket defensive line. The fourth down pass was broken up and Bartow took over. Dimitri Leverett moved into the QB position and carried for a short gain. Two incompletions set up a fourth down as the quarter ended.
Fort Meade received the Alex Montes punt and the receiver fell down. As the whistle was blowing, a defender made contact, leading to a penalty. A run by Jaren Barfield was a four yard loss and some emotion was shown as Fort Meade was called for unsportsmanlike conduct. The drive stalled and a punt of 14 net yards gave Bartow good field position.
Despite a penalty free first quarter for Bartow, flags started flying as Bartow soon found themselves in a first and 40. Leverett was hit as he was throwing and Fort Meade recovered the ball. Clark went to work with a 9 yard gain and Fulse sealed the movement of the chains with an end run. Fulse carried for 9 and Fort Meade tried some trickery that lost five.
Once again with fourth down in a pouring rain, the Miners left kicker Jack Cortez on the bench to go for it. Smith’s quarterback dive worked, moving the ball to the 20. Clark carried for 9 and Fulse pushed it inside the 10 for first and goal with six minutes to play in the half.
On the first play after the official timeout, Clark powered straight ahead and hit the ground at the one, fumbling, but called down by contact. Gabriel Al-Shaer penetrated the backfield to prevent Fulse’s goal line attempt. Fulse slipped on a second attempt, losing two yards for a fourth and goal at the 3. A field goal was not in the plans until Fort Meade took a delay of game to set up better field position. Cortez booted the 25 yarder with ease to put Fort Meade out to a 10-0 lead at the 4:06 mark.
A squib kick gave lineman Willie Smith a chance to handle the ball and the Jackets tried to get something going from the 38.
Leverett lost yards and yielded the spot to Graham, who threw incomplete to Walker, who lost his footing. Graham was sacked and Montes pounded a 60 yard punt to even up the field position battle.
The advantage was wiped out when Bartow stopped Clark for a loss, but officials didn’t like the talk and saddled Bartow with an unsportsmanlike conduct for a new set of downs. A 15 yard reverse by Tobias Culpepper got the ball to midfield. A Hail Mary fell short but Fort Meade had one more shot and the run was well short. The half ended with Fort Meade prevailing 10-0.
The rain continued to fall as the teams took the field for the third quarter. Fort Meade would get the ball to start play. The contact was intense as Devante Clark leveled Bartow’s Brandon Carey during the return.
On the first play from scrimmage, Bartow defender Terriyon Haynes came on to assist in the tackle, making contact with his helmet into the pile. Haynes remained on the ground for several minutes until being helped off the field. Fort Meade kept it on the ground, punching at the Bartow defense. A fourth and one rushing came up inches short, giving Bartow the ball at midfield. Michael Walker’s run got four and Walker was yanked down in a horse collar, giving Bartow some penalty yardage. Bartow went to the air as Leverett led Jeramy Williams in the end zone, but the Fort Meade defender got position and took the interception. Chris Morris brought it out to the 20, but a block in the back put the ball at the 8. Fort Meade picked up their second turn over. Clark attempted to run, but was tackled in the end zone by Bartow’s John Kilpatrick for a safety. Fort Meade led 10-2 with 6:18 to play.
Bartow got possession after the free kick, but couldn’t move at first. Fort Meade’s Michael Kramer sacked Leverett and Bartow committed a false start. Leverett found Williams for a 26 yard gain as the home crowd erupted. Bartow kept pushing, running 11 plays before the drive stalled at the 25. Alex Montes was called on for a 41 yard attempt that sailed to the right, keeping the score at 10-2.
Fort Meade played a possession game to run out the third quarter and the teams switched ends for the final 12 minutes of play. Fort Meade sent a line drive punt to Eric Rookard, who returned it to the 31.
Bartow went to the air with Leverett finding Malik Mills for a short gain. The quarterback keeper set up a short third down. Leverett’s pass didn’t connect, but pass interference was called to give Bartow a first down at the 11.
An incompletion to the end zone was no play due to a holding call. Leverett pulled it down to run and gain 9. Bartow went to the air and faced a fourth down, setting up a 35 yard attempt for Montes. The kick had the distance, but was offline and the Miners claimed the ball with 9:08 remaining.
Fort Meade’s march began at the 20 with a short gain on a pass, the several running plays with Clark and Fulse. Facing third and 27, Fort Meade attempted a run but Bartow defender Freddie Stevenson snatched the ball away and rolled into the end zone for a 42 yard return. An unsportsmanlike penalty moved the point try to the one. Bartow was going for the tie. Leverett handed to Walker, who couldn’t slip past Devin McCalebb. The score held at 10-8 Miners with 5:45 to go.
Bartow’s defense held to force a three and out with a punt to the 15 with under four minutes to go in regulation. The Bartow drive got off to a bad start with a penalty for movement. Walker’s apparent first down was canceled by a holding call, setting the ball at the 5. Leverett tried to connect with Williams and the pass was too high. Walker looked like he had running room, but McCalebb’s open field tackle aft a gain of three stopped that, setting up third and long. Graham leaped to catch the ball, but couldn’t come up with it and Bartow had to boot it away.
Standing in his end zone, Montes bobbled the snap, then fell on the ball in the end zone for a safety. With 2:56 on the clock, the score stood 12-8 Miners. Fort Meade received the free kick deep in their territory and a holding call put them in the shadow of the wrong goalpost. Bartow’s defense was being called on to stop the Miners and things looked good until Clark broke a run up the middle for 39 yards. Both teams used up their time outs, which gave Bartow hope. A fourth down play with less than 35 seconds to go stopped the clock and Fort Meade faced a fourth and 20, an obvious punting situation. The Cortez kick went out of bounds at the Bartow 47, leaving the Jackets 53 yards from a win and no way to stop the clock. Leverett nearly hooked up with Vontarius West for a long gain, but it was incomplete. The duo failed to hook up on the other side and only 17 second remained for another play. This pass was nearly picked off and Bartow looked at one play and 12 seconds. A Hail Mary pass was intercepted by eighth grader Ladarius Clark at the 7 to end Bartow’s hopes.
Bartow will take their 3-1 record on the road next week to meet the Lakeland Dreadnaughts Friday. Fort Meade stays perfect at 4-0.