The Baker Gators defeated the Vernon Yellowjackets 21-20 Friday night in the Region 1-1A final.
BAKER — Matt Brunson anticipated an epic battle.
Friday night’s 21-20 victory over Vernon lived up to the billing, the Gators getting one last defensive stand at midfield in the waning seconds to punch their ticket to a fifth straight Final Four.
"It’s a four-quarter game when you get this far in the playoffs," Brunson said.
In a rematch of the 2018 Region 1-1A championship, the Gators got on the board first behind a Joe Brunson 1-yard touchdown, but the Yellowjackets bounced right back with a 75-yard kickoff return touchdown from Darrell Powell.
Despite the early score, the Gators’ offense was uncharacteristically held in check early, Joe Brunson held to fewer than 50 yards in the first two quarters.
Vernon took advantage, grabbing a 12-7 lead at the half.
The Gator offense came out strong in the second half, however, staying on the field for the majority of the third quarter to take a 14-12 lead.
Early in the fourth quarter, Gator senior quarterback Sam Crowson ran it in to put his team up 21-12, but Vernon bounced right back.
Crowson takes it in himself. Baker lead 21-12 with 11:55 left in the game pic.twitter.com/Pq4T56MlDI— Ashleigh Wilde (@cnbAshleigh) November 23, 2019
Eighteen seconds later, Yellowjackets quarterback Dyvion Bush threw a 40-yard touchdown to Powell to pull Vernon within one.
After 11 minutes of back-and-forth action, the Yellowjackets had one last shot.
With 50 seconds on the clock, Vernon went for it on fourth-down at midfield but could not convert to give the Gators the victory.
"We graduated 22 seniors last year, so really no one knew what to expect out of our guys," Brunson said of returning to the Final Four. "These guys have stepped up, rose to the occasion and we’re right back so that’s awesome."
STAT OF THE NIGHT: 3
That would be the number of fumble recoveries the Baker defense had Friday night.
Devin Jordan, Carter Mason and Joshua Gamble each were able to snag a loose ball.
OFFENSIVE MVP: Joe Brunson, Baker
It wasn’t his normal 200-plus yards night, but the junior Dandy Dozen selection did account for two of the Gators’ three touchdowns.
Joe Brunson finished with just over 100 yards on the ground.
"Our mentality during the week was run behind me and it was a team effort," he said. "I just want to give a shout out to Dustin Oglesby, Gavin Vaccarello, Carter Mason and guys like that for opening holes for me."
When asked about his son’s ability, Matt Brunson used one word: "Competitor."
"He’s kind of like me in the fact that he doesn’t like to lose," he said. "He’s going to compete until the last bell."
DEFENSIVE MVP: The entire Baker defense
It was a team effort all the way around for the Gators’ defense.
Three fumble recoveries, a handful of blocked passes, and a well-executed last defensive drive sealed the deal for Baker.
"To contain the athletes that they had on the field, I wouldn’t trade this group for anybody." Matt Brunson said. "Man they played hard. I can’t be prouder for them."
"Ending up in our fifth straight Final Four and practicing on Thanksgiving night is a very special time in Baker, and we’re going to take advantage of it this week." - Matt Brunson on what a fifth straight Final Four appearance means for Baker
The Gators travel to Blountstown on Friday for a state semifinal matchup.
Blountstown defeated the Gators 33-7 earlier this season in the SSAC North Florida championship game.
"Blountstown moved the ball pretty good on us down in that game in Panama City," Matt Brunson said. "When you get to the state semifinals, it’s gonna be tough. Next week, it’ll be tough and we’ve got to have a great week and I wouldn’t count against these guys."
– Vernon’s K’wan Powell had a rushing touchdown.
– Baker’s Jackson Adams had a 55-yard touchdown run called back after a Baker penalty.