Editor’s note: In the printed version of this story, we erroneously changed “BHS” in the first sentence to “Bartlett High School.” The writer’s original intent was to refer to BHS being the acronym for both sides, Bartlett High School and Bolton High School. Whoever won would still be “BHS.”
Before the game was played, BHS was going to win. Bartlett quarterback Preston Raines was going to exchange a special handshake with wide receiver J.J. Vaden and Bolton quarterback Ryan Bevel would eat a bag of Skittles.
In a renewal of the BHS Bowl, the first since 2014, Bartlett High School defeated Bolton High School 21-7 on Friday at Bartlett to win the rivalry’s trophy.
“Hoisting that trophy and kissing it is probably the best feeling in the world,” said Vaden, who from his free safety position intercepted a Bevel pass at the Bartlett 15-yard line with 6:51 left in the second quarter to set up the Panthers’ first touchdown.
A 25-yard run by Tamarius Brown and Raines’ 23-yard pass to Vaden got the Panthers to the 6-yard line and from there, Raines reigned, scoring his first of two touchdowns.
“The old Bartlett, we used to lay down but today we kept fighting,” said Vaden. “We are going to keep fighting every game and never going to give up. That is our motto, ‘Fight.’ In a few years past, we have only beaten the teams we were supposed to beat and the teams that we really had to fight for, we could never pull it out. This is one we really feel like we earned it because Bolton is a good team.”
The Panthers are 2-0 going into this Friday’s Region 7-6A home opener against Collierville. Bolton (0-2) hosts Brighton in its Region 8-5A opener.
“We are getting better. It was a different attitude. The kids are fighting,” Bartlett Head Coach Tim Haney. “They are working hard. We had a great week of practice. Overall it was a great team effort. I am proud they all played hard in a rivalry game.”
The team effort included a defense led by Ethan Reeves’ 10 tackles, including seven solo, eight tackles each from Nathan Johnson and Cole Peppers, seven tackles by Stewart Kerby with a four-yard sack and Collin Connor’s five tackles.
A senior, Reeves had seven solo tackles against Overton on Aug. 18 and has 60 career solo tackles. He started as a freshman at Brighton before transferring.
“Ethan had a great game. Our linebackers and defensive line did a heck of a job getting through all those gaps and making plays,” said Vaden.
Raines said, “Our defense is incredible. They made huge plays when it is needed.”
Said Reeves, “Our defense knows what we have got to do. We got the job done. We have each others’ backs no matter what. That’s why our defense plays like it does. We all click on the (same) page.”
Among his five punts for 174 yards, Bartlett punter Jackson McCrady kicked a 41-yarder and averaged 34.8 yards per punt. Placekicker Noah Buckingham had a 54-yard kickoff along with his three perfect PATs.
Completing 11 of 18 passes, Raines passed for 99 yards and rushed for 56 yards with a 21-yard run and a 6.22-yard average on his nine carries. Brown had a team-high 61 yards. The Panthers rushed for 124 yards and had a total offense of 223 yards. Vaden caught two passes for 34 yards while Johnson caught two for 28.
“The line set it up. I couldn’t be out there unless it was for the line. It feels great. I have to go back and thank my lineman after the play (that scored his two touchdowns) because I couldn’t have done anything without them,” said Raines. “We worked as a team instead of individuals and finished the game out.”
Trying to rebound after a 14-12 loss to Millington in the season opener, Bolton finished the game out with two quarterbacks, Bevel and Tomory Stephens. They led the Wildcats to even total offensive numbers with Bartlett, gaining 213 yards. Bevel passed for 56 yards completing three of 13. From his goal line, Bevel threw a game-high 40-yard pass to Maurick Robertson in the first quarter. Jamelon Herron had a 15-yard reception.
Bolton running back K.J. Barbee rushed for a game-high 97 yards. Bolton out rushed Bartlett 150-124 from its spread, multiple formation offense.
Bevel, a junior, and senior center Devin Fisher are the two offensive returning starters for the Wildcats, who went 5-6 last year, losing in the first round of the playoffs to Centennial.
Leading the Wildcats’ 4-2-5 defense that has a 3-3 stack and also plays from a 3-4 was senior linebacker James Williams, who had eight tackles.
Barbee and Stephens each had four.
The game’s turning point came in the third quarter.
“After halftime (Bartlett led 7-0), we came back with a different mentality and not just to take the lead but more to win the game,” said Raines, who engineered a 54-yard drive that put the Panthers ahead 14-0 with 9:08 left in the third quarter.
Raines’ 21-yard run and three Bolton penalties (the Wildcats had 14 in the game for 106 yards) set up Raines’ 4-yard touchdown run.
In the third quarter Bolton was driving to score. At the Panthers’ 28-yard line Bevel fumbled and Connor recovered at the 31.
“When I fumbled, I felt like we were out of it at that point,” said Bevel. “But then we came back and scored. I think we had a little more focus. But then when we fumbled again (in the fourth quarter), I felt like we lost it form there.
“I learned about myself that if I get excited I tend to overthink things and then I try to do too much. How I stayed focused is to that I thought about the team and how much they needed me to step up. I’m only a junior and the starting quarterback so I had to step up and try to take the team to a win.”
With a pre-game ritual of eating Skittles, Bevel also eats a pack during halftime, a practice he began in middle school.
“I have been feeling better every time I play. I feel like I am more energized and doing better. One time I wasn’t playing good in the first half and ate a pack of Skittles at halftime. I came back and won the game last year against Munford. We were down by three touchdowns,” said Bevel.
Down by one touchdown against Bartlett, Bolton “tried to fight back in the third quarter but we are still a young football team and have got to learn to overcome adversity better than we are doing right now,” said Dee Alsbrook, in his second year as Bolton head coach.
“We struggled tonight getting out of the huddle fast enough with both quarterbacks. We have got to execute offensively much quicker than we are doing right now. We were rushing to the line of scrimmage. I feel like we had an opportunity to get a couple of touchdowns early in the game that we didn’t jump on. We tried to scoop and score one deep. They ended up getting the ball back where we would have had the ball inside the five early in the game. That was a critical point for us. That would have been a big momentum swing in our favor and we didn’t take advantage of it.”
Bartlett’s opening drive was highlighted by Raines’ 11-yard pass to Vaden, who climbed over a receiver to grab the ball at the Bolton 39. Raines threw an 11-yard completion to Melvin Turnage. On fourth down and four, Bartlett was penalized for illegal procedure and forced McGrady to punt.
Bartlett had 10 penalties for 98 yards throughout the game.
Backed up at Bolton’s goal line, Bevel threw the game’s longest pass to Robertson, a 6-3, 200-pound junior, to get the Wildcats to the 43 yard line.
Barbee ran to the 49 before Reeves tackled Bevel for a four-yard loss. Later in the first quarter, Bevel and Barbee sparked the Wildcats to the Panthers’ 25-yard line. Bevel then attempted a 43-yard field goal that sailed to the left.
After Vaden’s interception, Bartlett took a 7-0 lead behind 6-yard runs by both Jacob Robinson and Raines, a 10-yard gain by Phillip Thompson on a catch from Raines. Brown ran for seven yards before his 25-yard gain that went to the Bolton 29. Vaden’s 23-yard reception from Raines went to the 6-yard line. With 4:14 left in the second quarter Raines scored and Buckingham kicked it to 7-0.
Raines’ 4-yard touchdown in the third quarter with 9:08 left followed a 3-yard gain by Brown.
With 1:15 left in the quarter, Johnson leaped high to catch a pass from Raines that resulted in a 22-yard play to the Bolton 33. The catch was one of the game’s best.
However the Panthers’ Myron Washington fumbled at the Bolton 29. The Wildcats would drive 71 yards for a touchdown as Stephens handed the ball to Williams who rushed 12 times in the drive for 57 yards, including seven straight to the Bartlett 2-yard line. Williams had one run of 23 yards. On fourth and goal, Stephens scored on a 1-yard run with 5:38 left in the game. Bevel kicked the PAT and the Wildcats were within 14-7.
The Panthers sealed the deal when Stephens fumbled on his 17-yard line with 2:27 left and David Boddie recovered.
Bartlett would add one more touchdown on Brown’s 12-yard run with 1:26 left. Leading 20-7, Buckingham kicked the PAT.
“Our guys came through. We pounced on it to give us a two-score (lead) which was huge,” said Haney.
Expecting “one heck of a game,” Alsbrook got it.
“We were going to have to make a pretty miraculous drive,” said Alsbrook of the late fumble after Bolton was inside its 20-yard line.
“With one time out left that was one of those situations where we have a young player at quarterback. It was my fault. We didn’t get the play called correctly in the huddle and it was lack of execution. Defensively we played really hard tonight. I can’t take my hat off to our defense enough.
Said Barbee, “I know it is a rivalry game even though it was not a district game. I was trying to play my hardest and get into the end zone every time I got it.”
Alsbrook said of Barbee, a senior who doubles as a defensive back, “He is very physical and quick. He helps us immensely on both sides of the ball. He is a great kid with a big heart.”
Haney was disappointed with penalties “at crucial times. We have to cut those out. We can’t continue to prolong a team’s drive. I thought we had stopped them a couple of times then we had a penalty.”
A permanent team captain voted by players along with Vaden and Kerby, Johnson said, “We played hard as a team and kept our composure even though it was a close game. I am proud of my family, man. I feel like as a team we all improved. We know what we can do on third and long, second and short, on the goal line.”
The Panthers still have to work to do as they prepare for Collierville (1-1).
“We have got to fix the footwork, some blocking, a little bit of everything,” said Raines. “Emotionally we stayed up through the whole game, no doubters. We didn’t get our heads down and we stayed positive throughout.”
The offseason has helped the Panthers become more athletic and faster.
“All the weight training paid off. We have got a great strength coach (Chuck Boler). He really helped us out,” said Vaden, excited that his interception began a touchdown drive that became a “big exclamation point.”
That could have been said about the game which had a lapse during the 2015 and 2016 seasons because of redistricting.
“It was a great environment tonight. I just wished we could have come out on top,” said Alsbrook.
Said Haney, “There was a lot of excitement around the school. That rivalry is still there.”
BILL SORRELL is a freelance writer for The Bartlett Express and other Journal West 10 Media LLC publications. Contact him at email@example.com.