Brian Tannehill / For Tallapoosa Publishers Holtville RB Drew Pickett (8) breaks free around the right side of the line against ECHS Friday night.

With each passing year, the Holtville football program seemingly finds a new streak to break or a new standard to set and that was no different this season. Although the team’s first playoff victory since 1993 continued to evade the Bulldogs, they are not letting that dampen their spirits after a strong season in the team’s first ever season in Class 5A.

“We have come such a far way and our guys have really bought in,” Holtville coach Jason Franklin said. “They didn’t back down from the challenge of moving up to 5A and they battled all year. We are not the most talented team but they have worked their butts off to be a good football team.”

The most notable step Holtville took this season was securing home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 1986. While the postseason did not go as the Bulldogs would have hoped, the experience was still something the players and coaching staff can appreciate moving forward.

“That’s another step within the program to get to where we want to be in the end,” Franklin said. “That’s something you want to experience. You have to know how to react to that so you aren’t shocked the next time it happens. You don’t want to lose but it’s still a positive step for our program and our community.”

While the results on the field were something to be proud of in itself, Franklin said just have the season at all should be considered a success. With the season in jeopardy for so long due to COVID-19, the Bulldogs focused on taking the season just day by day and made sure to cherish whatever time they did get together.

“It’s been one of the most frustrating but exciting seasons I’ve ever been apart,” Franklin said. “You never knew what each week or each day held but to watch our guys overcome all of the obstacles thrown at us, that showed the character of our players… I thought Labor Day would be our end point so to get to this point has been a blessing.”

Much of Holtville’s success on the field came from the team’s interior play on both sides of the ball. Defensively, the front seven helped the Bulldogs limit their opponents to just 17 points per game, the program’s lowest mark since 2003.

The Bulldogs also had plenty of experience on the offensive line and it showed as most of the offense came through the rushing game in large part due to the holes created by the linemen.

“That was our strength the whole season,” Franklin said. “If you don’t have guys up front that can control the line, that makes for a long season. For us to have those guys that were really catalysts of our season was so big. They may not get all the publicity but they win the ball games.”

It also helped having guys like Drew Pickett and Shawn Brackett as the go-to ball carriers in the rushing attack. Despite having a shortened sophomore year after missing games early in the season, Pickett became the first 1,000-yard back during Franklin’s tenure at Holtville.

“Looking back, if he had a whole season, he could have had a 1500-yard season,” Franklin said. “I knew he would be able to do it and I’m proud of him for what he’s done. And he is still young with a lot of growing and developing to do so that’s going to be a blessing to watch.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.