Kicker sends Lions to championship game
By WESLEY HALLMAN / Sports Editor
HARTSELLE — Briarwood Christian School senior kicker Wilson Whorton trotted on the field to attempt a 43-yard field goal as time expired in an Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 5A semifinal contest Nov. 26 against the Hartselle Tigers on the road at J.P. Cain Stadium.
Whorton, suffering from a stress fracture in three vertebrae in his lower back, missed the potential game-winning kick as the ball failed to reach the goal post.
When the Lions held Hartselle without a score in the first overtime period, there wasn’t any doubt surrounding their offensive plans.
Briarwood ran the ball three consecutive downs and sent Whorton back out on the field for an 18-yard game-winning field goal to lift the Lions to a 24-21 win over the Tigers and a trip to the Class 5A championship game Dec. 2 at Jordan-Hare Stadium on the campus of Auburn University.
“I definitely needed to redeem myself,” Whorton said. “It was a great way to do that.”
Briarwood coach Fred Yancey knew Whorton would come through in the clutch for the Lions.
“Wilson is a great kicker,” Yancey said. “When the game was on the line and we needed the big points, he made a beauty.”
Briarwood (13-1) will face Spanish Fort (12-2) in the Class 5A championship game Dec. 2 at 7 p.m.
Whorton’s kick was set up by an interception by Matthew Furuto at the goal line on third down of the Tigers’ overtime possession.
“All of our guys did their jobs and thankfully I got in there and got it,” Furuto said.
Whorton’s field goal highlighted a second-half comeback by the Lions, who trailed 7-0 at halftime and allowed a game-tying score in the fourth quarter before clinching the win in overtime.
Sophomore receiver Daniel Robert was the star in regulation, as he caught seven passes for 129 yards and three touchdowns.
“(Robert) is a mismatch for a lot of folks,” Yancey said. “We had to go to him.”
Junior quarterback Ben Craft completed 17-of-31 passes for 245 yards and three touchdowns. The Lions struggled on the ground with only 26 total yards on 22 carries. Craft led the Lions with 15 yards on 11 attempts.
Tanner Cunningham caught five passes for 47 yards.
Hartselle opened the game with a 16-play, 80-yard scoring drive on its first possession, capped by a 14-yard touchdown pass from William Lang to Malcom Fossett. William Marsh added the extra point to give the Tigers an early 7-0 lead with 5:13 left in the opening quarter.
Briarwood cut the lead to 7-6 following a 25-yard touchdown pass from Craft to Robert with 9:39 remaining in the third quarter. Furuto’s rushing attempt for a 2-point conversion failed.
Hartselle extended its lead to 14-6 following a 1-yard touchdown run by Fossett and an extra point by Marsh with 4:31 left in the third quarter.
The Lions tied the game with 2:36 left in the third quarter following a 30-yard scoring pass from Craft to Robert and a pass from Whorton to Craft for the 2-point conversion. Briarwood took its first lead of the game with 8:53 left in the game following a 19-yard touchdown pass from Craft to Robert. Whorton’s extra point gave the Lions a 21-14 advantage.
Hartselle tied the game at 21-21 after Lang threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to Chris Slayton and Marsh added the extra point with 4:07 left in the game.
After a three-and-out by each team, the Lions got the ball back for a final drive in regulation. A 13-yard run by Sam Whitaker and an 11-yard pass from Craft to Cooper Harrington allowed Whorton a chance to win the game in regulation.
Whorton couldn’t finish off the Tigers on his first attempt, but he paved the way for Briarwood’s first trip to the Class 5A championship game since 2007 with his game-winning kick in overtime.
“It’s an incredible experience to get to Auburn,” Whorton said.
Yancey said he knew the Lions had a shot at a Class 5A championship after his team won the Region 5 title. Briarwood’s only loss during the regular season was to Class 6A powerhouse Vestavia Hills.
“I knew if we could win a region championship, we would be one of the contenders,” Yancey said.
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