It will be another road trip Friday night for the Bartow Yellow Jackets, the last bus ride before ending the season at home next week. The route to the game will be very similar to last week’s path to Haines City, but this time the destination is Ridge.
You have to go back to 2010 to find the last time Bartow traveled to Ridge. It was a stormy night that delayed the game to the point that many fans left, thinking the game was called. Officials waited out the weather and called the teams back with Bartow putting up a frantic comeback effort to fall just a touchdown short. In 2009, Bartow beat Ridge in what was then a district game at Bartow Memorial Stadium.
This game also has district implications, but neither team can use a victory as a springboard to the playoffs. Ridge is 1-3 with the sole win coming against George Jenkins. The Bolts won all their non district games, including a 75-0 blowout of 8A Orlando Evans High School. They opened the year nipping playoff bound Lake Wales and have also defeated Auburndale and Mulberry.
“They look a lot like us,” said Bartow Coach Jason Butler at the weekly public video session at Beef ‘O’Brady’s. “They have a couple of athletes that have been playing together for a long time and they utilize a similar offense. Their offensive line is very good and strong. They have an aggressive defense who won’t be afraid to come after us.”
Butler gave the Bartow defense some good marks for their effort in Haines City, a game that saw some big plays make the scoreboard provide a misleading representation of what actually took place. The team was forced into a game-time adjustment with injuries forcing others to step up into the position. The same happened throughout the game as a couple of Bartow defenders were forced out of action, but capable players stepped in. Butler mentioned he has been pleased with the play of Terrance Hammonds, who has progressed through his first year of competitive football.
Many have observed that the entire Bartow squad has played hard for the entire game, no matter what the scoreboard said. The players are showing a care and commitment to their purpose. “We just need to get stronger,” said Butler. Many forget, with the excitement of the fast start to the year, that the program is in a developmental stage. There has been learning, but there is plenty more to be done. Each game, regardless of the outcome, provides an opportunity to see a situation and be able to recognize when or if it happens again. The defense continues to swarm to the ball early and often and the offense, with varying personnel packages, continues to strive to make fundamental drives and not rely on chance or luck of the big plays.
The Bartow fans will have a final chance to view this team at home next week when the Jackets host the traditional season-ending game against Lake Wales. Community support has been strong through the home contests and more than a dozen seniors suit up for the last time. It signals an end, but also a beginning. The 2013 season ends, win or lose, but the impact that it has made on the individuals within the program will be carried through from that point forward.
Game time in Ridge is 7 p.m.