The Baker School football team (11-2) fell to Blountstown (13-0) on Friday night, 21-13, in the 1A Final Four.
BLOUNTSTOWN — The tears were few.
Instead, the Gators smiled, wiping away any signs of sorrow on the backs of their hands, some bloodied and bruised, as they wandered Bowles Field on Friday night in Blountstown searching for family members.
His voice hoarse from a cold, Baker coach Matt Brunson sought out his seniors, embracing each one in a hug, offering words of affirmation.
He was proud. They should be, too.
The Gators fell to Blountstown on Friday night, 21-13, in the Final Four, missing out on a chance at back-to-back 1A state championship trips, but their senior class, Brunson said, was special.
During their four years, the Gator seniors won 50 games and lost just four. They won 38 straight regular season games. They advanced to the state championship game in 2016 and 2018. And in their swan song, they finished 11-2, getting the program to its fifth straight Final Four.
"This senior class has put a mark on Baker football that’s gonna be hard to get back to," Brunson said.
And in their final high school game, that same group of seniors showed improvement and fought to the final whistle.
Blountstown (13-0 overall) beat the Gators 33-7 on Nov. 2 in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference North Florida championship game and led by 20 at halftime. The Tigers held a Gator offense then averaging 378 rushing yards per game to just 3.1 yards per play.
Friday, Baker (11-2) struck first, junior running back Joe Brunson weaving through the heart of Blountstown’s defense for a 22-yard score on the Gators’ opening drive just one play after Matt Brunson had gambled and cashed in on fourth-and-5.
By half, the Gators trailed just 14-7, Blountstown senior running back Treven Smith cashing in from 17 and 9 yards out, respectively, out on a pair of drives that ate just 6:34 off the clock.
Tigers tie it up. 7-7 with 3:00 left 1Q pic.twitter.com/xguLWE4qgl— Sam Grubenhoff (@SamGrubenhoff) November 30, 2019
Baker had a shot at tying the game up late in the second quarter after senior Jackson Adams ripped off a 27-yard run down the left sideline to set up the Gators in the red zone with less than minute left, but Blountstown linebacker Brent McCrone stripped the ball away from quarterback Sam Crowson two plays later on a scramble drill and linebacker Zeb Kelley was able to fall on it.
The Tigers dominated time of possession in the second half, holding the ball for 9:29 in a scoreless third quarter before Blountstown fullback Garrett Martin gave his team a 21-7 lead on a 1-yard dive with 6:11 left.
TD Martin. Blountstown leads Baker 21-7 with 6:11 left pic.twitter.com/yOdWZHELWX— Sam Grubenhoff (@SamGrubenhoff) November 30, 2019
A staple of the Tigers’ second half offense, Martin rushed for just 19 gritty yards on eight carries, setting up Smith for a couple of long runs, including a 28-yarder just two plays before Martin’s score.
"We were trying to defend the edge, and they kinda hit the fullback up in there, who’s a very capable runner, as well, to try to get us back in the inside gaps," Matt Brunson said. "We were just playing a little cat-and-mouse game and they hit us with a couple plays."
Baker managed to answer with an 11-play scoring drive that Joe Brunson capped with a 20-yard touchdown reception, but time ran out on the Gators. With just 46 seconds left, Baker opted for an onside kick, which took a high hop and landed in Blountstown senior Jaquille Martin’s arms.
"I couldn’t be prouder of our kids," Matt Brunson said. "(Blountstown) beat us pretty good the first time, outgained us by a large margin, but tonight we closed the gap, played better.
"We couldn’t make a couple plays right there to close the gap enough, but, man, they played extremely hard."
STAT OF THE NIGHT: 1 inch
Trailing just 14-7 with 9:23 left, Baker forced a pivotal Blountstown punt.
Joe Brunson, lined up deep inside his own 20, watched as the ball sailed low and away toward the end zone and started to move away from it, playing for the touchback.
The Gators wouldn’t get it.
Blountstown long snapper Cody Peavy came flying down the middle of the field, launched himself into the end zone and flipped the ball back into the field of play where the Tigers downed it at the 1-inch line.
"I thought it went in the end zone for a minute, but I was like, that was amazing," running back Treven Smith told the Panama City News Herald. "He hustled down there to get that."
Baker went three-and-out on the ensuing drive, gaining just 6 yards, before it returned the ball to Blountstown and surrendered Martin’s touchdown from that same 1-inch line.
"That was big," Matt Brunson said. "For them to roll that thing down there inside the 1, that was incredible on their part."
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Treven Smith, Blountstown
Totaling 139 rushing yards and a touchdown Friday, Smith became Blountstown’s single-season rushing leader with 1,585 yards.
He also caught one pass for 16 yards and a second score.
"Anybody that’s ever seen these faces in these communities last October and last November and they see what these children have helped do this community. It’s not even just about football. You go uptown and the Christmas lights look better. People are smiling in the grocery store and I can’t tell you how many people ask me is (running back Alex) Valdez OK."
- Blountstown coach Beau Johnson to the Panama City News Herald when asked what it means to earn a trip to the championship game.
Blountstown will play two-time reigning state champion Madison County at 7 p.m. Saturday for the 1A crown at Gene Cox Stadium in Tallahassee.
The Cowboys beat the Gators 48-6 for the title the past December in Orlando.