BAKER — The Baker football team entered the 2012 season with high hopes. The Gators were coming off a 7-3 season in 2011 in which the Gators missed the playoffs by an overtime loss to District 1-1A Freeport in coach Matt Brunson’s first year at his alma mater.
With a year in the Brunson system and several returning starters, things were definitely looking up for the Gators.
Baker got off to a fast start with a 26-21 win at South Walton and a 55-33 victory against Rocky Bayou Christian in the Gator home opener.
As would be the case throughout the year, the Gators played a physical, ball control game in picking up the wins.
The Gators pounded the ball behind a physical offensive line led by senior Taylor Brown. Quarterback Adam Crowson and D.J. Thomas quickly made their presence felt in the wins.
Baker did suffer a key loss when junior Ben Crowson suffered a broken arm in the opener and was lost for the year. Crowson, who was slated to play linebacker on the Gator defense, also was expected to back up his brother, Adam, at quarterback.
After getting off to the quick start, the Gators were 4-4 the rest of the year.
Baker’s first loss of the season came in week three, when a ranked Holmes County team visited Doug Griffith Memorial Stadium, flexing its muscles. The Blue Devils beat the Gators 54-14 in what became Baker’s worst loss of the season.
Baker had another setback against Holmes County when Adam Crowson received a concussion that sidelined him for Baker’s week-four game against West Gadsden.
With both Adam and Ben Crowson sidelined, Brunson called on sophomore quarterback Jon Beck to make his first varsity start at West Gadsden.
Beck was up to the task of leading the Gator offense as Baker pounded out a 35-3 win over the Panthers.
The win over West Gadsden was followed by a loss at Bozeman, and Baker was 3-2 entering district play as the Gators hosted Freeport.
For the second straight year, the Gators and Bulldogs battled tooth and nail. For the second straight year, Freeport took a close — 41-34 — win.
The Gators stepped out of district play in week seven to host Sneads for Homecoming 2012. There was plenty to celebrate, as Baker beat the Pirates 28-14.
It was back to district play in week eight as Baker traveled to rival Jay for “The War of Highway 4.”
Any Baker player or fan will tell you that the next best thing to making the playoffs is beating the Royals — and that’s just what the Gators did as they took care of business in a 48-21 win to improve to 5-3 on the season and 1-1 in district play.
The Gators got a much-needed open date the next week as they prepared to take on District 1-1A powerhouse Northview in week 10. The Chiefs brought a roster loaded with college prospects into Doug Griffith Memorial Stadium and Brunson acknowledged Baker needed a perfect game to pull off the upset.
The Gators played a near perfect first quarter and took an early 6-0 lead. Numerous times in the first half, Brunson rolled the dice and went for a first down just to keep Northview off the field.
The strategy worked well for a while, but in the end, the Chiefs were too talented and had too much depth as they handed the Gators a 40-6, eliminating them from the playoffs.
For the season’s final game, Baker traveled to Vernon to take on the Yellow Jackets.
D.J. Thomas was within striking distance of a 1,000-yard season rushing. A win would assure the Gators a 6-4 season, marking the first time in more than a decade that Baker had produced back-to-back winning seasons.
When the final horn sounded, the Gators had a 42-20 win and Thomas had his 1,000-yard season.
Adam Crowson graduates in the spring, and the Gators lose Taylor Brown, Cody Chunn, Taylor Carlisle and several other key players to graduation.
Nevertheless, things are looking up for the Gators.
Thomas will be a senior next year, and a healthy Ben Crowson should return to battle Beck for the starting quarterback position.
Richard Stroheker and Austin Martin also return at running back for the Gators, giving Brunson the core of a team that should again be in the mix for a playoff spot.
Contact News Bulletin Sports Editor Randy Dickson at 682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BigRandle.