The Braves scored two defensive touchdowns in their 28-13 win at Flagler Palm Coast High School.
Most of the green-clad fans had already exited the stadium. A few stragglers remained.
On the field, Bulldogs coach Travis Roland stood tall with his players huddled around him. While players knelt in sorrowful silence, the opposing team’s shouts of joy pierced the cold night sky. As Roland delivered his postgame speech, the eyes of his players sparkled with tears. It was a long night.
And an unforgettable season.
“I’ve never had more fun with a team,” the Bulldogs’ first-year head coach told his players. “I’m so proud of you.”
Battling cold and windy conditions, No. 3 seed Flagler Palm Coast (9-1) was defeated in the opening round of the FHSAA Playoffs 28-13 by No. 6 seed Orlando Boone on the night of Friday, Nov. 10, at Sal Campanella Memorial Stadium. It was the Bulldogs’ first and only loss of the season.
The Braves (8-2) jumped out to a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter — and then Jay Swegheimer happened.
At the 6:35 mark in the second quarter, Boone’s 6-foot-5, 220-pound defensive end strip-sacked FPC quarterback Ryan Freeman and returned the fumble for a touchdown. A few minutes later, with the Bulldogs marching toward the red zone, Swegheimer undercut a rout and picked off Freeman, returning the interception 65 yards for his second score of the game. The touchdown gave the Braves a 28-6 lead at halftime.
“[Swegheimer] made two hellacious football plays,” Roland said. “There’s not much you can do when you give up two defensive touchdowns. Their defense came to play.”
The Bulldogs began to rally when sophomore running back Ty Jenkins bounced a run outside and into the end zone from 20 yards two minutes into the third quarter. On Boone’s ensuing drive, senior linebacker Ethan Brady recovered a fumble.
There was always something to hinder the Bulldogs on offense, though: missed assignments, numerous dropped passes and — most significantly — untimely penalties.
“Mistakes can happen, but we’ve just got to fix them,” junior defensive end Nelson Paul said. “It’s hard to be perfect, but that’s what we’ve got to strive for.”
Looking back, the loss won’t affect how Roland and the team view all they accomplished this year: the first undefeated regular season in FPC history, a return to the playoffs and, ultimately, a shift in culture.
“We’re not going back to where we were before,” said Roland, who took over a program that won a total of seven games the past two years. “This is a changed football program. We’re ready for anybody and everybody. We’re ready to play football.”
The Bulldogs have the pieces for success next year, too. They return nine starters on defense and six starters on offense.
It’s more than just having the talent, however.
“We know everybody has talent, but it’s the hard work that you put in to see if you can keep going forward.” Paul said. “We have a great team that’s going to be set up next year, but it’s what we’re willing to put out that’ll determine the kind of season we’re going to have.”