The sense throughout the evening at Beaufort Academy on Friday night was that Bethesda Academy would make a comeback. The only question was whether the host Eagles could hang on. And when the time came, BA’s defense was up to the task.
The Eagles made a goal-line stand in the final seconds to preserve a thrilling 36-28 victory over last year’s SCISA 1A runner-up, earning the first 11-man football win in the program’s history after moving up from the 8-man ranks this season.
Despite holding a two-score lead for much of the night, BA coach Mark Clifford and crew couldn’t exhale until the very end.
“That was a great game, an exciting game. The fans must have loved it,” Clifford said. “I didn’t love that much. Golly.”
He might not have enjoyed the roller coaster ride, but Clifford had plenty of affection for the way his team performed. From the opening drive, the Eagles were the aggressors, steadily moving down the field before Jaxen Porter punched it in from the 1 for an early 6-0 lead.
The good feelings didn’t last long, as Bethesda star Antjuan McKay swung a short pass out to Carlton Brown on the Blazers’ first offensive play and watched Brown race up the left sideline all the way to the end zone.
The Eagles didn’t fold, though, and Carlos Jones put them back on top with a 14-yard touchdown run before Devonte Green’s 32-yard interception return for a score really put BA in command. McKay answered with a long touchdown run and came up with an interception on the other side of the ball with 3:05 left in the half to give the Blazers a chance to tie before halftime, but the BA defense made another big stand to preserve the lead at the break.
McKay got the better of the Eagles’ defense in another big spot, spinning out of a tackle on fourth-and-1 from midfield and bolting to the end zone, but BA stopped the conversion attempt to maintain a 22-20 advantage with 3:35 left in the third quarter.
When Jones went to the sideline with cramps on the next series, it seemed like the Eagles might be in trouble. But Ja’Sean Lawson and Elijah Fess stepped in and plowed ahead, and Fess capped an impressive drive with a TD run followed by a Lawson two-point conversion to make it a 10-point game.
“In practice, we have multiple running backs and one just keeps topping the other,” BA quarterback Braydon Dineen said. “It just keeps building from there, and every practice they get better.”
Dineen got the ball back for the Eagles with an interception of McKay and returned it to the Bethesda 19, setting up Fess’ second TD run of the quarter, but BA couldn’t convert the two-point try, keeping it a two-score game and leaving a glimmer of hope for the Blazers.
Bethesda’s offense was out of sync all night, plagued by penalties and dropped passes, but the Blazers started to click just in time to make it a wild finish. McKay and Brown hooked up for another pass-and-run for a long TD, and McKay ran in the conversion to pull with 36-28 with 7:56 left.
The Blazers got the ball back with 2:51 left and had first-and-goal at the 7 with 1:35 to play when BA’s defense stood up strong and made five straight plays to keep the ball out of the end zone. A penalty on fourth down gave Bethesda one last chance from the 5, but the Eagles stepped up one last time to preserve the win.
“They stepped up,” Clifford said. “They can take a lot of stuff from this game that they can carry on for the rest of the season.”
The Eagles (1-1) are scheduled to travel to Colleton Prep next Friday.
Story and photos by Justin Jarrett