The Mary Persons Bulldogs made a valiant effort to overcome four turnovers and a bad start on Saturday but in the end succumbed to Dougherty County 39-23, ending their season in Round 1 of the playoffs.
“You can’t turn it over four times,” sighed MP coach Brian Nelson, whose Bulldogs ended the year 6-5.
Playing on a cold Saturday night, the Bulldogs started with good field position and a promising drive. Quarterback Logan Hickman hit wide receiver Kham Little to move past midfield and into Dougherty (9-2) territory. But as Little strained for extra yards at the end of the play, the Trojans stripped the ball and took over at their own 46. Four plays later Dougherty junior quarterback Kam Davis, a Florida State commit, found receiver Malik Dixon for 33 yards and the score. MP blocked the PAT and Dougherty led 6-0 with 9:32 left in the first.
Things went from bad to worse when the Dogs fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Trojans recovered at the MP 29. Four plays later Davis ran it in from a yard out. The two-point conversion failed and MP already trailed 12-0 just four minutes into the game.
“We were always playing catch up after that,” said Nelson.
The Dogs did respond with an 11-play, 67-yard drive, mostly carries by Duke Watson, but they bogged down at the Trojan 5. Ryan Bankston made a 22 yard field goal and it was 12-3 with 2:07 left in the first.
But Dougherty responded with a 13-play, 80-yard drive capped when running back Jacob Stallworth scored from two yards out. The Trojans converted the 2-point conversion and led 20-3 with 9:33 left in the half.
The teams swapped punts the rest of the half and 20-3 was the halftime score.
Dougherty got the ball to start the second half and extended their lead when Stallworth got loose for 42 yards and the score. The PAT made it 27-3 with 10:47 left in the third.
Then the Bulldogs finally got going. Duke Watson returned the kickoff 18 yards to the MP 37 for good field position. Little caught a pass and went 18 yards and then Hickman scampered in from 16 yards out to make it 27-10 with 8:54 left in the third.
Then Jacobi Jones recovered an onsides kick. Seven plays later, Hickman hit senior Carter Campbell on a 22-yard touchdown. Ryan Bankston’s PAT made it 27-17 with 5:25 left in the third and the Bulldogs still had a chance.
But Dougherty recovered another MP onsides kick and had good field position at their own 48. The Dogs had a golden opportunity when sophomore receiver Braylen Still fumbled at the MP 29. But Doughtery recovered, and five plays later Stallworth scored from 7 yards out. The PAT was no good but the Trojans now led 33-17 with 11:08 left in the fourth.
Then the Bulldogs threw an interception and the game was all but over. Stallworth scored his third TD of the night from 16 yards out and it was 39-17.
MP did add a late TD when Hickman found Little for 3 yards as time expired for a final of 39-23.
Nelson said MP has done a good job this year on turnovers so he was surprised by the four they had, which played a key role in the loss.
“I was not worried about turnovers before the game,” said Nelson. “But they will kill you.”
Nelson said the Dogs played good defense only giving up about 300 yards. Nelson said he was impressed with Dougherty’s QB but that it was a winnable game.
“They’re not a better team than us,” said Nelson. “That’s a 50-50 game. We just got the wrong 50.”
Dougherty will advance to Round 2 and will play Calvary Day in Savannah.
It was the final game for 18 MP seniors, including Hickman, who started for four years as QB for the Dogs and now has the records of 6,040 passing yards and 61 TDs in his career.
Nelson said they’re gonna de-compress for a few days and then consider next season.
“We got to get it back rolling,” said Nelson. “We’ve been talking the last couple of days about the fact that we’ve got to get back the mindset we had 4-5 years ago.” MP won four straight region titles and made two trips to the Final 4 from 2015-18.
MP is expected to have back junior Duke Watson, one of the best running backs in the state who has offers from Georgia Tech, Kansas State and Kansas.
Nelson said he hasn’t decided whether to hire a new defensive coordinator after this year’s left the program mid-season.
He said coaches from Region 2-AAA haven’t met yet to set the All-Region team. Of the four Region 2-AAA teams that made the playoffs, only region champ Peach County advanced past the first round this past weekend.