HALLSVILLE – Bullard coach Shannon Wilson said his team had trouble finding the right fits when it played Atlanta on Saturday. The two main areas the Panthers struggled to find were run defense and gaining yards on the ground themselves.

The Bullard defense could not contain the one-two running punch of quarterback Jeremy Smith and tailback Tyrell Phillips, who provided most of Atlanta's offense in the Rabbits' 44-22 win over the Panthers in a Class 4A Division II bi-district playoff at Hallsville's Bobcat Stadium.

Atlanta's Jeremy Smith escapes through a big hole created by the Rabbits' offensive line. (Evan Lewis, ETSN.fm)

Smith rushed for 204 yards and two touchdowns while Phillips went for 155 yards and two scores.

Bullard had hoped for a balanced offensive attack, but Atlanta's run defense prevented that from happening, limiting the Panthers to 18 rushing yards on 25 carries.

“We knew coming in speed would be an issue and we had to contain them," Wilson said. "Credit to them they had a good job. We didn't have the right fits like we usually do and usually we're usually more technically sound than we were. That was disappointing.”

Bullard finished with a 7-4 record for the second straight season and was denied its first playoff win since 2011. Atlanta (7-4) won a bi-district playoff for the fourth consecutive season and advances to an area playoff against Coldspring-Oakhurst that starts at 2 p.m. next Saturday at Bruce Field in Athens.

Coldspring-Oakhurst defeated Groesbeck 28-23 in a bi-district playoff on Thursday.

Atlanta never trailed against Bullard and built a 28-9 lead with 10:14 left in the third quarter when Smith connected Phillips on a 9-yard jump pass for a touchdown.

Bullard had two chances to change the momentum of the game later in the third. Derek Landrum recovered a Smith fumble at the Atlanta 40-yard line with 8:27 left in the third quarter, but on the ensuing drive the Panthers gained just four yards before giving the ball back.

Bullard did get a 33-yard punt return by D'Juan Martin to set up a 40-yard touchdown pass from Cleet Bowman to Major Tennison with 4:41 left in the third, the first reception of the game for the University of Texas commitment, but Bullard's extra-point kick was blocked by Tristan Allen and the loose ball was returned 89 yards by Kelton Young to give Atlanta a 30-14 advantage.

Allen also forced a Bullard fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter, setting up a 70-yard Atlanta drive capped by 2-yard touchdown run by Phillips on a fourth-and-1 play to clinch victory for the Rabbits.

“The blocked kick was a momentum swing," Wilson said. "We lost a chance for momentum on that."

The Rabbits used brute force at the line and timing by its back seven to make nine tackles for loss while Bullard had just two, both by Hunter Phelps. Keyuntea Kinney had four tackles for loss for Atlanta and Danny Dickerson had three.

“I think we dominated both sides of the line,” Atlanta coach Matt McClure said. “I thought our outside linebackers read the blocks of their tackles well, and we haven't done a whole lot of that lately.”

Atlanta threatened to make the game a blowout in the first quarter and a half. A 48-yard pass from Smith to Carson Lambert set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Phillips to give the Rabbits a 7-0 lead with 7:13 left in the first quarter. Smith had another big play with 24.5 seconds left in the first, sprinting 71 yards for a touchdown on an option play.

Smith scored again on a 4-yard touchdown run to cap a 71-yard drive to extend Atlanta's lead to 21-0 with 7:29 left in the first quarter. Smith had 121 yards rushing on 14 carries in the first half.

Bullard got a spark on the ensuing drive, which was extended on a fake-punt pass for 21 yards from Hood Taylor to Nic Costas to the Atlanta 31-yard line. It set up a 6-yard touchdown run by Tre Crayton and a 2-point conversion run by Jake Johnson to cut Atlanta's lead to 21-8 with 4:52 left in the second quarter.

Bullard had a chance for more first-half points when Thomas Brooks stopped Smith for a 1-yard gain on a fourth-and-3 at the Bullard 42, but the Panthers were held for a three-and-out possession to close out the first half. Atlanta had a 235-80 edge in total yards in the first half.

Bowman finished with 154 yards passing. Crayton led all players with nine tackles while Phelps had eight. Bullard linebacker Mikah Hughes, who has verbally committed to Harvard, had six tackles.

Jeremy Smith celebrates his 71-yard run in the first quarter, which gave Atlanta a 14-0 lead. (Evan Lewis, ETSN.fm)


Atlanta 44, Bullard 22
Class 4A Bi-District Playoff Game
Bobcat Stadium, Hallsville
Bullard     0     8   6    8    –    22
Atlanta    14    7   9    14  –     44
First Quarter
A – Tyrell Phillips 3 run (Conley Richardson kick), 7:13
A – Jeremy Smith 71 run (Richardson kick), :24.5
Second Quarter
A – Smith 4 run (Richardson kick), 7:29
B – Tre Crayton 6 run (Jake Johnson run), 4:52
Third Quarter
A – Phillips 9 pass from Smith (Richardson kick), 10:14
B – Major Tennison 40 pass from Cleet Bowman (kick blocked), 4:33
A – Kelton Young 89 blocked extra point return
Fourth Quarter
A – Phillips 2 run (Richardson kick), 7:53
A – Young 35 run (Richardson kick), 1:59
B – Nic Costas 43 pass from C.Bowman (Tennison pass from C.Bowman), :4.9
                               B              A
First downs            12             19
Rush-yards            25-18      59-394
Passing yards       175            62
C-A-I                   13-23-0    3-6-0
Fumbles-lost          3-1          1-1
Punts-avg.         5-39.8      1-35.0
Penalties-yards    6-47         8-75
Rushing – B: Crayton 5-14, Johnson 9-12, Drake Daly 1-6, Brooks Parham 2-6, Luke Bowman 5-2, C.Bowman 3-(-22). A: Smith 27-204, Phillips 29-155, Young 2-38, team 1-(-3).
Passing – B: C. Bowman 12-22-0-154, Hood Taylor 1-1-0-21. A: Smith 3-6-0-62.
Receiving – B: Costas 4-71, Tennison 3-62, L.Bowman 2-21, Daly 4-21. A: Carson Lambert 2-53, Phillips 1-9.