STORY BY JAKE DONOVAN | PHOTO BY WHITNEY JARRELD
It has only been four years since the Battle Ground Academy Wildcats played in the state football championships—recent enough for the community to recall, but long enough to where not a single player on the 2018 squad has ever participated in such an event.
That dynamic changed in a big way, following the Wildcats 50-7 blowout over Franklin Road Academy in their Division II-AA semifinals game Friday night on BGA’s campus in Franklin.
The home team scored on six of its seven possessions, including all four in the first half. Two-way starter Kaleb Seay (38 rushing yards, 1 interception, 3 touchdowns) led the scoring frenzy with two on the ground along with a 3rd quarter interception TD return to seal the visiting Panthers’ fate.
The landslide win—in stark contrast to the Wildcats 14-3 victory over FRA barely a month ago—puts BGA (11-2) in its first state finals since 2014, and in search of its first championship since 2003.
“There have been some great players who played at BGA,” noted Wildcats head coach Roc Batten, who has led BGA to the playoffs in each of his eight seasons guiding the program. “We had a great team in 2014. You look at those banners on the field; there’s a lot of pride.
“Our job is to try to reach the legacy. I always tell my team there’s a standard here that’s been set by a lot of guys that played here long before us. This team has done its part all season to proudly contribute to this school’s incredible history.”
They also did its part to add to what has been an incredible season.
The story in nearly each of their 11 wins on the season was the ability to dominate on both sides of the ball and take their opponent out of the game early. Well beyond the final score, an even greater example is found in the final stats, where the Wildcats amassed 409 yards of total offense compared to just 83 for the Panthers despite both teams running virtually even in time of possession.
BGA went the length of the field on its first possession, an 81-yard drive capped by quarterback Nick Septimphelter (13-18, 240 yds, 2 TDs) connecting with Tiy Reed (87 yds. total offense, 2 TDs), on a 7 yard strike.
Reed earned his second touchdown of the night on the Wildcats very next possession. Mixed in between was the first glimpse of the wrath of Chico Bennett Jr., who ended the Panthers opening drive with the first of 4 quarterback sacks on the night—all in the first half.
“Our defensive line applied a lot of pressure tonight and it created a lot of opportunities for me to be able to isolate their key players,” humbly stated Bennett Jr. (8 tackles, 4 sacks), a Georgia Tech commit. “We were inspired all night by the offense doing its thing and we just wanted to keep the momentum going.”
In doing so, the relentless Wildcats defense slowed FRA to a crawl.
“We just couldn’t execute tonight,” said Panthers quarterback Sean Casey (9-18, 83 yards, 1 INT). “It was a great season, but this definitely wasn’t how we wanted it to end.”
Try as they might, FRA (8-5) just wouldn’t have a say on the night. Still, there was plenty of heart on this Panthers squad, exhibited just one week ago in rallying from 30-6 to upset top-seeded Notre Dame 34-33 to advance to the semifinals.
That same fighting spirit was in mind even after falling behind 14-0. The Panthers would cut the lead in half, riding the back of Brogan Wilson (22 rushing yds, 1 TD; 48 receiving yds) who capped a 60 yard drive with a 2 yard rushing touchdown to cut the lead in half just three plays after going 50 yards on a catch and sprint to put FRA in the red zone.
It was the last time on the night they’d even come within whiffing distance of scoring range.
BGA immediately responded, with Semptimphelter connecting with Garnett Hollis (4 receptions, 115 yds, 1 TD) on a 46 yard TD reception. Seay would score the first of his three touchdowns on the Wildcats next possession to give his team a commanding 28-7 lead. FRA had one more shot before halftime to chip away at the deficit, a lengthy drive once again resulting in a Bennett QB sack for a huge loss.
“Chico is a big time player who brings a lot of things to our football club,” acknowledges Batten of Bennett’s impact on both sides of the ball. “They have a lot of athletic receivers on their team, especially (Brogan) but Chico kept them honest. He was just lights out tonight.”
Another rushing touchdown by Seay in the Wildcats first possession of the second half forever put the game out of reach. The Panthers refused to roll over, but not only began the third quarter with back-to-back three and outs but the second drive resulting in a safety after an errant snap on a failed punt attempt sailed into the end zone.
The Wildcats were armed with a 37-7 lead and the ball but were forced to punt for the first and only time on the night. Even that resulted in points, as the Panthers next possession ended in a pick-six by Seay, who intercepted Casey for a 21-yard touchdown return.
“My eyes lit up when the ball came my way,” admitted an overjoyed Seay. “Man, I don’t even know what else to say. The whole team stepped up tonight, and I’m just thrilled we’re one win away from a championship.”
While the crown is well within reach, it perhaps represents the longest two-week stretch on which a football team can embark.
Awaiting the Wildcats in the finals is division rival, the unbeaten Christ Presbyterian Academy Lions (13-0), who advanced to the dance following a 21-14 win over Lasaunne Collegiate. CPA beat BGA earlier in the season, 31-20, to hand the Wildcats the first of its two losses this year—coming in back-to-back Fridays.
Seven straight wins have followed, with the Wildcats not allowing more than 14 points in any contest along that stretch.
“I really feel like there’s been tremendous improvement with this team, since the CPA game and certainly since the ECS game. There’s been a significant shift in our mindset during practice, our focus and preparation and a lot of attention to detail. It’s something you try to instill as the staff, but sometimes it takes a little longer to sink in.”
No better time for that mindset to fully develop than late November.