Bartlett and Larkin staged a battle befitting two teams trying to stay in the playoff chase Friday night, but only one side managed to rise to the occasion in crunch time.
With the pressure on in the second half, the host Hawks mounted a pair of long scoring drives as they powered their way to a 20-7 Upstate Eight crossover victory at Millennium Field. Meanwhile, the Royals did themselves no favors by losing four fumbles in the fourth quarter.
The outcome keeps Bartlett (3-4) in the hunt for its 13th trip to the playoffs in the past 14 years and deals a blow to the prospects of Larkin (3-4) reaching the postseason for the first time since 2006.
“We started to move the ball and controlled field position down the stretch,” Bartlett offensive lineman Nathan Baer said. “The defense played phenomenal and didn’t allow a point in the second half, and that made it so much easier for us.”
The Royals led 7-6 at halftime, but a turnover on downs near midfield early in the third quarter gave the Hawks a short field. A pair of costly penalties didn’t derail Bartlett on its ensuing drive as it put together a 15-play scoring march.
Facing third-and-9, quarterback Jordan Flint had all kinds of time in the pocket before finding tight end Clint Zierke wide open in the back of the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown pass to give the Hawks a 14-6 lead on the final play of the third quarter.
“I found a clear space and was waiting for the ball,” Zierke said. “As soon as I looked at Jordan he threw it right to me.”
The Royals were on the move on the ensuing possession when three plays into the drive the ball slipped out of Cameron Tomlin’s hands at the end of a 22-yard run. Michael Coleantonio recovered the fumble for Bartlett at its own 28-yard line, setting up a nine-play touchdown drive going the other way as Titus Ayomidele scored on a 21-yard scamper to make it 20-7 with 7:34 left.
Any chance of a Larkin comeback was thwarted by three more fumbles on its next three drives. The Royals finished with five turnovers for the game and only 92 yards of offense in the second half.
“The defense played their butts off and played well enough to win,” Larkin coach Mike Scianna said. “The offense needed to step it up a little bit. We should have been able to win with our offense, and we didn’t perform on that side of the ball.”
Flint completed 8 of 9 passes for 64 yards for the Hawks while Matt Callahan led a balanced ground attack with 17 carries for 80 yards and a touchdown.
Dante Bonds provided the only scoring for Larkin when he made a juggling catch on a slant pass from quarterback Kemmerin Blalark for a five-yard touchdown late in the second quarter. Blalark threw for 124 yards and senior running back Damion Clemons provided 56 rushing yards on 17 carries.
“Larkin is a tough team,” Bartlett coach Tom Meaney said. “They have some good skill kids, but luckily for us they dropped some passes and turned the ball over. It’s a whole different game if they hold onto the ball.”
BARTLETT 20, LARKIN 7
Larkin 0 7 0 0 – 7
Bartlett 0 6 8 6 – 20
B – Callahan 6 run (kick failed), 11:54
L – Bonds 5 pass from Blalark (Jackson kick), 0:37
B – Zierke 12 pass from Flint (Gates pass from Flint), 0:00
B – Ayomidele 21 run (pass failed), 7:34
Team stats B L
First downs 17 11
Comp.-pass-int. 8-9-0 11-21-1
Passing yards 64 124
Rush att.-yards 50-217 27-109
Total yards 281 233
Fumbles-lost 2-1 5-4
Penalties-yards 5-65 6-50
Bartlett – Callahan 17-80, Ross 15-59, Ayomidele 9-54, Bernat 5-24, Flint 4-0.
Larkin – Clemons 17-56, Tomlin 4-34, Shipp 1-15, Blalark 5-4.
Bartlett – Flint 8-9-0 64.
Larkin – Blalark 11-21-1 124.
Bartlett – Cottman 2-27, Zierke 3-18, Gates 1-10, Danek 1-7, Petty 1-2.
Larkin – Shipp 4-38, Topel 3-37, Clemons 2-26, Hunter 1-18, Bonds 1-5.