LIVE OAK, Fla. — Knowing what was coming didn’t make it any easier for Suwannee High to stop it Friday night.
Using a heavy dose of a physical running game, accompanied by a big play in the passing game and some help from the Bulldogs too, Baker County ran past SHS 35-21 at Langford Stadium.
“They did a heck of a job … a really physical team,” SHS coach Kyler Hall said of the Wildcats after the Bulldogs’ second straight loss dropped them to 3-2 with district play beginning next week.
“For this group, we’re going to see what we’re really made of. We have the ability. We’re getting tested a little bit right now.”
After Suwannee capitalized on a blocked punt to go up 21-20 with 3:21 left in the third quarter on a 10-yard Jaquez Moore run, Baker County (3-1) went right back to work with its ground game, pounding the football at Suwannee.
Three plays later, Scooby Graham broke free for a 55-yard touchdown to put the Wildcats up for good, 27-21. Graham finished with 188 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries.
“We knew what they were running coming in, counter and zone,” Hall said. “They’re just really good running the counter.”
The Wildcats kept going back to those two plays again and again, churning out 241 yards rushing on 59 carries with quarterback Alex Bowen scoring two touchdowns. He also completed 10-of -11 passes for 143 yards, including an 85-yard screen to Graham on a third-and-15.
For nearly three quarters, Suwannee’s rushing attack went toe-to-toe, blow-for-blow with Baker County.
After the Wildcats took a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter, Suwannee responded on its next drive. Following a 51-yard Malachi Graham run on a sweep, Tyree Taylor found Hunter Corbin for 19 yards on fourth-and-8 to keep the drive alive. Two plays later, Taylor scored from 4 yards out to tie it with 8:25 left in the half.
Baker County regained the lead two minutes later set up by the long screen play and capped by a 1-yard Graham touchdown. Bowen then added his second scoring run with 3:39 left in the second quarter to put Baker up 20-7.
SHS, though, mounted a three-minute drive to close back within a score, relying solely on its rushing attack. Graham and Taylor both had 13-yard runs on the drive and Moore converted a third-and-short to help set up a 6-yard Taylor TD with 27 seconds remaining before intermission. The senior quarterback finished with 63 yards on 22 carries for the Bulldogs, who rushed for 175 yards as a team — 159 coming in the first half as SHS had just two first downs after the break.
The Bulldogs, though, were unable to capitalize on a pair of scoring chances right after halftime to seize control.
A 33-yard pass from Taylor to Terrell Atkinson behind the BC defense moved the Bulldogs into Wildcat territory on the first drive of the third. However, the drive ended when Taylor couldn’t connect with Moore in the end zone on fourth-and-short from the Baker 27.
Suwannee’s Blaine Howard recovered a fumble on the ensuing play to give the Bulldogs the ball at the BC 13.
After five penalties, four on the Bulldogs, Suwannee again was unable to score when Taylor overthrew Keiwan Ladler in the end zone on fourth-and-14.
“Self-inflicted stuff, those are things we have to correct,” Hall said.
The third scoring chance was the charm for SHS in the third, though. Forcing the Wildcats into a three-and-out, Suwannee’s Keshawn Jones blocked Conner Waite’s punt, giving the Bulldogs the ball inside the red zone once again.
Two plays, later Moore put SHS ahead for the first time before Baker rallied.
And left Hall eager to see how the Bulldogs respond to adversity with the District 2-5A opener on the horizon when Rickards visits next Friday.
“End of the day, next week is the biggest game of the year up to this point,” he said. “A little gut check time, so we’ll see what we’re made of inside.
“A lot of things to play for still.”