TIFTON - When Tift County and Bainbridge played football Friday night at Brodie Field, one went in as undefeated defending state champions. The other entered with a record of 1-4.
When the final whistle blew, those backgrounds were meaningless. Tift County dominated on both sides of the ball and defeated the Bearcats 24-6 for their second win.
"We got that bad taste out of our mouth," said Tift head coach Ashley Anders after the game.
Bainbridge never had a chance to get going in the contest.
After a quick three-and-out on the opening series, Tift took the ball off the punt. Using Jeffery Butler and Chrishon Stephens exclusively as runners, the Blue Devils drove all the way down to the 11. They bogged there, but Pedro Mendoza kicked a 28-yard field goal at 3:57 for a 3-0 lead.
Before the Bearcats had a chance to think about a response, Tift had the ball again after Mendoza popped up the kickoff and K.D. McCormick recovered at the 31.
Boosted by Butler's 13-yard run to the 13, Tift put the ball in the end zone with 49 seconds left. Walter Jackson carried it the final two yards.
Stephen Thomas and Byronn Williams got to quarterback Quayde Hawkins early in the second. Hawkins recovered with a long pass completion into Tift territory, but the receiver couldn't hang on and Daniel Whitehead pounced on the ball for a fumble recovery.
Later in the period, the Blue Devils started a drive just this side of the 50. After a quick Stephens first down, Butler kept it on the option and ran around right end. Bainbridge finally caught him at the 3 but the hosts were in business again.
Tift shook off a false start, got back to the 2 and from there Jackson rumbled in for his second score at 2:32. The defending champs were now down 17-0, a score that held to halftime.
Bainbridge's only points came on a lucky bounce. A Tift fumble popped straight up to Zion Bouie near the Devils' 45. He scored untouched at 10:19. An unlucky bounce kept the score from being closer. The extra point snap was bobbled, preventing a kick try.
The score was now 17-6, but the Bearcats couldn't get more momentum and soon fell further behind.
Boosted by a false start on third-and-six, Stephens picked up the first. Qa Clines pulled away for an 18-yard game to the 27. Two plays later, Butler juked a Bearcat nearly out of his shoes and bolted for a 23-yard touchdown with 5:40 to go in the third.
Bainbridge's best try for an offensive score came after Azaria Smith had to fall on a punt snap at his own 9. There, the defense made its biggest stand of the night.
Hawkins lost yardage when he ran into Tift's defensive line. A pass to Jackson Wheeler advanced them to the 8, but Hawkins missed on two straight passes, the last on fourth down at the 13.
The Blue Devils kept Hawkins flustered on the next drive. Michael Ryan caught a pass for 26 yards and a first down, but his other six attempts during the possession went incomplete. Four more incompletions followed on on their last try late in the fourth quarter for a string of eight straight misfires.
Hawkins finished Friday 7-of-28 passing for 91 yards. That was nearly all the Bearcats' offense.
Down 10 points before they had five plays under their belt, the Bearcats couldn't use Rashad Broadnax much. He ran three times for nine yards. The team had 10 rushing yards and Hawkins was sacked once for (-3), meaning Bainbridge's total yards unofficially added to 98.
Anders said his defense was unbelievable in the game.
"The defense played lights out," he said. "They had three fourth down stops."
While Bainbridge couldn't hit a receiver, Tift's ability to run ensured they never had to try.
Joe Almond had one pass attempt, but it wasn't one of necessity. The Blue Devils were at Bainbridge's 47 with 11 seconds to go in the half and Almond attempted to find Smith on the sidelines to steal a score before the break.
Butler had 18 runs for 144 yards and a touchdown. Stephens was the workhorse at 25 carries for 73 yards. Jackson had two touchdowns on three rushing attempts. The team numbers added to 254 yards on the ground.
Ball control powered the Blue Devils all night. Thanks to a strong push by the offensive line, the running backs picked up 16 first downs. Bainbridge was limited to five first quarter plays - 16 in the half - then just four in the third.
The loss was Bainbridge's first since Oct. 19, 2018. They had won 12 straight games.
Tift will stay home next week, with Miller Grove coming in for homecoming. The Wolverines (0-4) were set to play Arabia Mountain Saturday.