Briarwood wins first Backyard Brawl

It was as if it was a line drive hit right back up the middle to the pitcher’s mound. Briarwood’s Ben Bracewell leapt up, reached out and snagged the high snap with his right hand before booting away a 35-yard punt with his back to the goal line. Immediately the chatter began on the sidelines that the grab was one of the greatest displays of athleticism seen in high school sports, and the fact that it helped secure a 20-10 victory over Spain Park didn’t hurt.

“If he didn’t make that great grab, (Spain Park’s) got an easy touchdown and now they’re only three points down and the band could strike up,” Briarwood head coach Fred Yancey said. “They’d have the momentum going and it would have been real hard for us.”

The play shows that Bracewell is settling into his new role as Mr. Utility, as he lined up at fullback, quarterback, punter, holder, wide out and saw limited time in the secondary all in one night.

After leading the offense in the first half with more than 70 yards receiving, Bracewell snuck left across the goal line late in the third quarter to cushion Briarwood’s lead after leading by just three points, 13-10.

But it wasn’t just grabbing a high snap that made the game. Briarwood’s defense, led by Walker May and Justin Shade, set a trap for Spain Park from the first play.

“We were thinking all week that this is a backyard brawl. We know most of the guys on their team and we knew they were going to come out and play hard. We just had to match their intensity,” Shade said.

Shade, May and Phillip Ketchum kept the Jaguars’ offense where it left off at Mountain Brook, confused and close to the line of scrimmage, if not behind it.

“Our defense gave us the freedom to really open up on offense and really to play without fear,” Yancey said.

The freedom was revealed in the first half, as Briarwood found the end zone on a short run by Caleb Castille to take the lead after a 12-play, 87-yard drive. The ability to open things up followed in the second quarter when Barber found Zeke Walters from 22 yards out on a pro-like touchdown catch, that Yancey believes is one for the highlight reel. And the lack of fear shined through late in the third, with a gamble of a call on fourth and long from the Jags’ 27. Connor Hodges caught a tipped pass down the sideline at the 2 to set up Bracewell’s touchdown.

“You almost feel snake bit at times when things like that happen, but you learn to play through it,” Spain Park head coach David Shores said.

Shores made an adjustment just before the half, trailing 13-0, to bring in Graham Craig at quarterback to replace starter Hunter Walker.

“(Craig’s) got a real good niche of scrambling around and finding guys down field,” Shores said.

That’s exactly what he did as he collected 114 yards passing and pushed the Jags down field for a field goal before the half, which Craig kicked from 32 yards out.

The new quarterback didn’t waste time in the second half, leading his team down field again to find Daniel Watkins on a 23-yard pass to pull within a field goal, 13-10.

“(Craig) came in and really gave them a punch in the arm that they needed and gave them a shot at beating us. It really did. Without a couple of dropped balls, this game could have been much different,” Yancey said.

Shores said he and his staff would reevaluate the quarterback situation this week, just as they do every week. He stopped short of saying Craig may have won the starting job.

“Whoever finishes the week (at practice) on top gets to start. We’re not trying to create controversy or anything,” Shores said.

The Jags are hoping to turn their four-game losing streak around, but it won’t get easier with arch-rival Hoover coming to Jaguar Stadium next Friday.

“We’re getting close. We’ve gotten better the past week. We have to finish each play. We’re not to that point yet,” Shores said. “(With Hoover coming to town), we’ve talked a little bit about Oregon State and USC. We’re going to be a huge underdog, an unranked team playing a ranked team and we’ve got an opportunity to go in there and do something special.”

Yancey said he understands where Shores is right now, because he’s been there before.

“All you can do is keep trying,” Yancey said. “Coach Shores and them are doing good stuff.”

The win is Briarwood’s third-straight after losing at Shelby County in the second week. Bracewell believes it is something to build on, now that the Lions have beaten two teams from Class 6A, Region 6.

“I think it really opens up our eyes. I know it opens up everybody else’s eyes,” Bracewell said “It lets us know that we can be a great team and that we can make a run in the playoffs.”

Briarwood will return to region play Thursday night for homecoming against Talladega.

As for the newfound rivalry, it’s more about good competition, according to Yancey.

“I enjoy beating teams that are real good or that have a good reputation because it’s rare when we get to that,” he said. “We’re going to have to play good people no matter what. I like the coaches over (at Spain Park) and I respect the school, so it might be a thing we’ll keep doing.”