State champs Briarwood wins 5A title

More than 10,000 fans braved temperatures in the 30s last Friday night to watch the Briarwood Christian Lions claim the AHSAA Class 5A state championship at Birmingham’s Legion Field.

The Lions capped off their 13-2 season with a dominating 31-7 victory against the Russellville Golden Tigers (13-2), but Briarwood’s command wasn’t established at the game’s onset.

After Russellville returned the opening kickoff to its own 17 yard-line, running back Mauri McCulloch raced 83 yards for a touchdown on the game’s first play from scrimmage.

Joe Craddock immediately recognized the challenge.

&uot;I knew we needed to answer the call,&uot; said the senior Briarwood quarterback. &uot;Scoring on the first play was huge for their fans and for their emotions.&uot;

He didn’t take long to respond, leading Briarwood on a nine-play, 74-yard drive in the Lions’ first possession.

A 22-yard pass from Craddock to Charles Hoke set up a 10-yard touchdown run by Simeon Castille to tie the game at 7.

Briarwood never relinquished control as Craddock and company piled up 319 yards of total offense and the Lions’ defense held Russellville scoreless the remainder of the game.

With little over three minutes remaining in the first quarter, Craddock found an open Zach Trotter for a 33-yard touchdown pass, one of two for Craddock on the night.

&uot;We had Trotter catch two huge passes over the middle,&uot; Craddock said. &uot;And Charles Hoke, like he has all year, played an awesome game.&uot;

Hoke was the recipient of Craddock’s other touchdown pass, a 33-yard strike with 3:08 left in the game.

Craddock made successful reads of the Russellville defense all night, often tucking the ball and running when he couldn’t find and open receiver.

&uot;I knew I would have a little bit more time than I usually would,&uot; Craddock said. &uot;I didn’t want to force anything.&uot;

He finished the game with 92 rushing yards and didn’t throw an interception.

Craddock’s touchdown run of five yards in the third quarter made him responsible for three Briarwood scores and helped him secure the game’s Most Valuable Player award.

Andy Davis led the Briarwood defense with 10 tackles (9 solo) and a fumble recovery. He also had 36 rushing yards on 11 attempts.

Defensive back Simeon Castille had 8 tackles (7 solo), a forced fumble, and an interception. He also rushed for 28 yards from the running back position.

Hoke led Briarwood receivers with 4 receptions for 86 yards while Trotter hauled in 2 for 61.

Yancey said a great deal of the team’s success in the playoffs was due to the work of some lesser-known players behind the scenes.

&uot;Even the guys that knew they weren’t going to get in the games, they made our starters work extremely hard.

&uot;We had guys like Dennis Schauer, our fourth-string tailback who’s a pretty good player, really work hard,&uot; Yancey said. &uot;He accelerated every day in practice to make sure he was a hard guy to deal with.&uot;

Yancey said senior players like Schauer, Taylor Gwaltney and Connor Hughett studied film of Briarwood’s upcoming opponents to simulate their game-plans in practice, giving the Lions starters a &uot;perfect look.&uot;