Southeast Whitfield High School football coach Sean Gray believes a win Friday at Gilmer would have put his team “on the map.”
To do that, though, Southeast’s defense needed a late-game stop. But the Bobcats’ offense didn’t stop.
Gilmer’s 15-play, 82-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter took the game clock from 8:27 to 1:02 and the Bobcats beat the Raiders 18-6 at Huff-Mosley Memorial Stadium.
Southeast (2-1), which finished 2-8 last year in Gray’s first season as head coach, entered the game with its best start since 1989 and was aiming for a 3-0 start for the first time since 1985. Gilmer, which made the Class 4A state playoffs two of the past three seasons, also entered the game with a 2-0 record.
“To come into their place and have a chance to win the game, we’re at the level now where we expect to compete against and beat good football teams,” Gray said. “It hurts because we were close. We told the boys all week, ‘This one could put you on the map.’”
Trailing 11-0 in the fourth quarter, Southeast quarterback Will Swantic found wide receiver Rhett Harper for a 17-yard score with 8:33 remaining. The two-point conversion failed, but the Raiders only needed to stop the Bobcats to get the ball back for a potential game-winning drive.
That didn’t happen.
Gilmer converted three third downs, including a run on third-and-10, and Tyler Bertolini scored from 2 yards out to seal Southeast’s fate.
“We were in it,” Harper said. “We had momentum and it was third-and-10 on the 50. We just have to learn how to play in big games.”
Bertolini, the Bobcats’ bruising running back, had 30 carries for 196 yards and two touchdowns. His first score, a 14-yard run, came with 5:29 left in the second quarter. Kick holder Thaddeus Bowers ran in the two-point conversion.
In the third quarter, Gilmer kicker Manny Lopez missed a 36-yard field goal.
After Southeast failed to convert a fake punt on the next drive, Lopez converted a field goal from the same distance as his miss to give the Bobcats an 11-0 lead with 3:28 left in the third quarter.
Gilmer won last year’s matchup 38-10. Coach Wesley Tankersley told his Bobcats this wasn’t the same Southeast team.
“You know they have the talent and are good enough to beat you if you don’t come to play,” he said. “I thought we did enough tonight.”
Southeast’s scoreless first half included one Swantic interception in the end zone and one Blake Foster fumble. The Raiders were in the I formation for the first quarter and the spread the rest of the game. They gained 151 yards.
By comparison, Gilmer gained 200 yards in the first half and 349 for the game, with 308 coming on the ground.
Swantic finished 7 of 16 passing for 71 yards and also had 67 yards rushing. Harper caught five passes for 43 yards.