The Southeastern Bulloch Yellow Jackets defeated the Portal Panthers for the Class A-4-A State Championship Thursday afternoon at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta 20-0. There were plenty of questions about how many women’s crown titles the Jackets have had in school history, but one thing is for sure, Thursday marked the first flag football title of their freshman year of Game.
The Panthers managed to advance to the title game two years in a row, which is quite a feat in itself. So the question becomes how do two small rural schools in Bulloch County get to the bigger stage in such a short time?
A big advantage for both teams is their coaching. Panthers head coach Jay Reddick and assistant Michael Holsenback both have years of experience. While some coaches dabbled in flag football for a few years in college, Reddick and Holsenback traveled the country playing on the biggest flag football stages.
âWe were both on staff at Georgia Southern, so I played for 16 years and he played for over 20 years,â said Reddick. âOver all these years of playing you get to see so many different styles and we got to come together and decide what would be best for the talent we had at Portal. Fortunately, the rules used by the GHSA are basically the same as the ones we’ve played with, so we didn’t have to adjust to much. “
The Southeast Bulloch coaching duo may not have spent as many hours playing as the Panther duo, but husband and wife Marci and Nick Cochran have plenty of experience as well. Marci played five years in college and Nick played six. Nick has also refereed five years of flag football and has refereed high school football and basketball since 1999.
âMarci and I have coached a number of sports at the intermediate and high school levels,â said Nick Cochran. âAll of these playing and training experiences have helped us. The officials section has also helped us a lot this year with time management. We trained most of these girls in college and I feel like Marci does a great job of building relationships.
When Reddick found out that the GHSA was going to make flag football an official sport, he quickly approached athletic director Justin Chester and lobbied for a team at Portal. A meeting was held to see what kind of interest there might be in playing flag football, and when nearly 50 girls showed up, the portal administration made the decision to field a team.
âThings have been going really well with us last year,â said Reddick. “We had coaches who had experience with flag football and luckily we also had talented athletes who came together quickly and helped us qualify for the state final in our first season.”
According to Cochran, if not for the success the Panthers enjoyed in the 2020 season, Southeast Bulloch might not have fielded a team at all, let alone won a state title this week. .
âAll credit goes to Jay Reddick in my opinion,â Cochran said. âIf he doesn’t push for flag football at Portal, we probably don’t have a team at SEB. If they go to 0-8 or 2-6, our administration is probably not chasing it and things would have just fallen apart. The portal that won the state championship last year is certainly the reason we decided to start flag football.
Having knowledgeable coaches really helps, but if you don’t have the talent neither team would have had the success they have had. Reddick and Cochran are both happy to have multisport athletes participating and the cooperation of the other coaches they play for to enable them to build such talented teams.
âAt Portal, most of our athletes play different sports,â said Reddick. “We were fortunate that a few of them had played a bit of football with their brothers or families and that many had improved their hand-eye coordination by playing other sports most of their lives.”
âI have the impression that the majority of small schools, especially in southern Georgia, encourage their daughters to play multiple sports,â said Marci Cochran. âWe can pick the best athletes from our school to compete, while in Atlanta and the big schools, they’re trying to get their daughters to specialize. “
As they waited for players from the softball and volleyball teams to join the squad, the Yellow Jackets had big wins over Lakeside and Grovetown without those players and Jacket’s coaching staff began to believe that ‘they could realistically win the title.
âWhen we went to Augusta and beat a few teams that made it to the state playoffs last year without a full roster, I think we knew we had something special,â said Nick Cochran. âWhen we had the volleyball and softball players on the team, we took it to another level. When they had a few games under their belt we really started rolling and you see how we played throughout the playoffs.
The depth of the Jackets really turned out to be the difference in many games as they actually had a few players who weren’t playing both ways and were able to stay fresh for endurance late in the game which is evident in the fact that they have not allowed any points in their five playoff games.
The good thing for both teams is that they dismiss the majority of their players. Portal is losing four players from this year’s squad, but Reddick believes they will continue to improve with the option of relying on a junior college.
The Yellow Jackets lose only one starter from this year’s squad and have plenty of players hungry for playing time. So while it seemed unlikely that two Bulloch County teams would qualify for the game for the title this year, seeing them again next year should come as no surprise.