By Wes Trotta. - Bradford, FL.
Heat, stress and rivalry all cause high emotions. Combine all three, and you get the opening season football game for the Bradford Tornadoes and the Baker County Wildcats.
After battling it out in the sweltering heat, the Tornados started their season 1-0 in dramatic fashion, defeating the B.C. Wildcats 27-24. This win did mean a little more considering this is the first time these teams have played in three years.
Tornadoes head coach, Brian Tomlinson, had this to say after the game: “Whenever it’s your biggest rival, I mean shoot, you can’t beat it.”
As the Tornados awaited the opening kickoff, it was tough to realize they were the home team. Wildcat fans flooded the stands and everywhere else they could fit. It was amazing that either offenses were able to move the ball with the amount of crowd noise, but that’s exactly what happened.
Bradford got on the board first after a long drive that included a huge fake punt run by 2021 WR Nathaniel Davis. The Tornadoes capitalized on that drive with nice touchdown run by 2021 RB Erric Smith.
A missed PAT later, the Tornados were up six and looking confident. Unfortunately, that lead didn’t last as Avant Lee, the Wildcats senior receiver, took the ensuing kickoff to the house.
After the first quarter, the Wildcats led, 7-6.
The second quarter is when the fireworks went off, with a combined 32 points scored. The first went to the Wildcats running back, Scooby Graham, who had two on the night. Extending the lead to 14-7, teams began swapping blows with big chunk plays through the air and ground.
A quarterback combination of Jackson Smith and Pedro Carter proved to be too much for the Wildcats defense, as they moved the ball consistently. Near the goal line, the Tornados leaned on Erric Smith who showed shiftiness, speed, and power on his way to pay dirt twice in the first half. Coach Tomlinson kept his offense on the field after Smith’s second touchdown in order to tie it up, which they did.
Following another successful Tornado drive, they found themselves up seven after a touchdown reception by Dontae Balfour. Closing in on halftime, the Wildcats marched down the field and punched it on fourth down, with a strong goal line run from Scooby Graham with seconds left in the half.
Everything settled down defensively in the second half with neither team moving the ball offensively. The Wildcats defense could only hang on for so long before Balfour found the end zone for the second time at the end of the third quarter.
Tomlinson’s team would not budge on defense and gave up zero points in the second half. The defense made their best plays during the Wildcats final two drives by making back-to-back fourth down stops.
The first stop was at the hands of Balfour, who picked off the Wildcats in Tornado territory.
Balfour was asked if he was someone the teams looks at as leader, “If I don’t do it, who is? We're a team and I gotta show 'em what hard work, do.” Balfour is referring to summer workouts and how important it is to go into the season prepared.
The Wildcats would get one more chance to capitalize, but after a pass break up in the end zone, the team failed to convert a long fourth down, allowing the Tornados to get in victory formation.
This was a back and forth game that feature injuries on both sides. When Jackson Smith was asked about the injuries, he kept it simple.
“We need to hydrate, we gotta drink more and get more fluids in us," the QB, said.
Pedro Carter said this win has been a long time coming.
“We’ve been preparing for this game for months and months and months and we came out and showed them what we’ve been working on," Carter said.
The Tornados will travel to Baldwin next week while the Wildcats will host Gainesville.
Player of the game: Dontae Balfour- 2 receiving TD’s, a two-point conversion and a late interception.