BAKER – Doug Griffith Memorial Stadium set the stage for a dramatic home opener for Baker’s Gators, who faced off against a fellow Class-1A team, the Holmes County Blue Devils of Bonifay.
In the first set of downs from scrimmage, Coach Matt Brunson showed the Blue Devil defense that he doesn’t believe in punting, even in his own territory.
“Early on like this, we’re going to play to game confidence,” Brunson said.
Playing on fourth down and long worked out for the Gators twice in the series, with the second occurrence ending with the Gators’ first score in the game: a 25-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Kalee Ciurleo to sophomore receiver Derek Peoples Jr.
The Gator defense only allowed 5 yards from Holmes County in the first quarter, letting Baker’s offense score two more times, with touchdown runs from Junior McLaughlin and Jalen Ciurleo, respectively.
In the second quarter, the Gators had their first turnover of the game with a lost fumble, resulting in Holmes County getting a 53-yard touchdown run on their next play on offense.
The Blue Devils of Bonifay attempted a last-minute rally before halftime with a successful fake punt, only to have Baker’s defense continue to get sacks and tackles for loss, keeping the score at 21-7 to end the first half.
Holmes County got the ball back to start the second half, and scored a 61-yard touchdown run off their second play from scrimmage, bringing them within one score of the Gators 21-14.
Baker tried to answer with a drive deep into Holmes County territory only to lose a second fumble at the 9-yard line. In that drive, quarterback Kalee Ciurleo suffered a leg injury and had to be pulled off the field, bringing senior backup Ryan Stoutenburgh behind center.
“You just have to step up to the challenge when your main person comes out,” said Stoutenburgh, who had to instantly fill in for his starter in Baker’s hurry-up offense. “I can’t let my team down. I can’t let anybody down so I just had to step up.”
Kalee Ciurleo ended up only having a leg cramp, and Holmes County failed to capitalize on the turnover.
18 minutes passed between the first two scores of the second half, with the Gators turning the ball over on downs on two occasions; but their defense held the Blue Devils scoreless for the rest of the game, and Junior McLaughlin got his second touchdown of the game.
The Gator defense put an exclamation point on their performance by scoring a safety led by senior tackle D’Nick Thomas.
In the series after the free-kick, the Gators went to fourth down, and it looked like the crowd at Doug Griffith Memorial Stadium would finally get to see senior kicker/punter Josh Springle get in a punt after scoring four extra points. The Gators, however, played a fake-punt of their own to get the first down. Again, coach Matt Brunson doesn’t like to punt.
Holmes County got the ball back after the Gators turned it over on their next set of downs, but it was too little too late for the Blue Devils, with the final score 30-14.
Brunson said he looks forward next week to visiting Blountstown, who went to the Class-1A regional finals last season.
“It’ll be a tough test at their place, but it’ll tell us again where we’re at and what we’ve got to work on. And this group will keep working hard and moving forward.”
The Baker Gators will play in Blountstown on Sept. 2.