TUNNEL HILL -- After having their four-game winning streak snapped last week, Northwest Whitfield High School returned to the winning track at home Friday with a 6-0 victory over Gilmer in a defensive struggle contested over a muddy field and under persistent, heavy rainfall.
"I have never played in conditions like this before," said Gavin Ellis, the Bruins senior running back who was responsible for the game's only touchdown. "This is the muddiest game I've ever played in, and just trying to get out of my stance (was challenging)."
Puddles were present all over the field, and the midfield area was essentially a bog. Rain that doused Whitfield County all day continued throughout the contest, and that combination made even ostensibly simple tasks, such as handing the ball off, snapping or passing, exacting for both sides, which led to a field position game with a paucity of pass plays.
Bruins coach Josh Robinson hasn't coached in a game with conditions like Friday's in more than a decade, he said.
"Our guys did a good job," he said. "We made some mistakes, and we shot ourselves in the foot, especially in the second half, but our defense stepped up.
"Our field is tore up, and (the conditions) made it really hard on everybody to execute what you wanted to to. Scoring is at a premium, and we felt we could win the field position battle."
"This is one of those games where you have to dig deep and find out who you are," he said. "I knew this (rain) was coming, so I mentally prepared myself, and I knew I had to keep both hands on the ball."
After Northwest Whitfield's opening drive broke down, Matt Redmond's punt pinned the Bobcats at their own 7, and when the Bruins defense held the visitors without a first down, the home team took over at the opposing side's 32 following a short punt. A quick tunnel screen from freshman quarterback Owen Brooker to Redmond, which was successful for the Bruins on several occasions Friday, picked up a first down, and Ellis later rushed to the precipice of the end zone before taking the ball the rest of the way for the score on the next play.
"I believe in my teammates, and I know they believe in me," Ellis said. "We all had to dig deep."
The extra point was missed, however, so the Bruins led only 6-0 with 2:25 remaining in the opening quarter -- but that was all they'd ultimately require for the victory. The Bobcats, who lost to the Bruins last season, 40-17, failed to record a first down until the second quarter, and neither team truly threatened for the remainder of the first half.
The Bobcats did reach Northwest Whitfield's 26 late in the third quarter, but the Bruins held the fort on fourth down and reclaimed possession. Gilmer (3-5, 1-2 in Region 6-4A) had another opportunity when a poor snap led to Redmond being swarmed at midfield before he could punt, but they failed to capitalize and punted to the Bruins with roughly five minutes remaining in the game.
A pair of tenacious runs by Ellis converted on two different third downs, allowing the home team to bleed the clock, and Gilmer didn't get the ball back until only 63 seconds remained in the game. A completion advanced the ball to midfield, but Redmond's interception with only 12 seconds left sealed the game for the home team.
The Bruins (6-2, 3-1 in Region 6-4A) will visit intra-county rival Southeast Whitfield next Friday.
Though Friday's 6-0 win in a deluge won't go down as an artistic masterpiece, Robinson and his Bruins were only concerned with recording a victory.
"The scoreboard is what matters on Friday nights," he said. "As long as we win, we've done our job."