Briarwood ends season perfect in region play

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

NORTH SHELBY – It wasn’t pretty, but the Briarwood Christian Lions became the 2016 undefeated 5A Region 5 champions after getting past a tough Pleasant Grove team 12-7 on Oct. 21. The game was the lowest-scoring of the season for the Briarwood offense, garnering only 12 points, but it was enough to get past the Spartans on a night where defensive play was at a premium.

“This game was more valuable to us than had we come out and been able to run through them very easily, that would not have been good for us,” Briarwood Christian head coach Fred Yancey said after the game. “We’ve had a few of those, and they’re fine, they’re fun, but they don’t season you for the playoffs.”

From the opening series, it was clear both teams were in for a dogfight. Briarwood got the ball to start, and after a nice 30-yard completion from William Gray to Kolby Kwarcinski, Gray was stripped and fumbled the ball away, giving possession over to the Spartans. A few plays later, Hudson Hartsfield intercepted Pleasant Grove quarterback Caleb Jackson to give the ball right back to Briarwood, and the tone was set for the first quarter.

Briarwood sophomore JR Tran-Reno, one of the more explosive playmakers on the Lions’ offense, took a handoff on the ensuing play from Gray and scampered 52 yards for a touchdown, but the play was called back due to an ill-timed block in the back. Later on the same drive, the normally sure-handed Carson Eddy dropped a would-be touchdown pass in the end zone, and Briarwood was forced to punt after a drive full of potential.

Pleasant Grove finally got on the board first in the second quarter after Jackson and Kobe Gunn, both sophomores, led the Spartans on a 64-yard, 4:36-long drive that ended with a Gunn two-yard score. The touchdown gave Pleasant Grove a 7-0 lead that stood at the half.

“I told them to just keep chopping wood,” Yancey said of his message to his team at halftime. “If we were going to run away from them it was going to be on a chance to big-play them, but we kind of squandered our chances to big-play them. But we just told them to keep playing.”

The third quarter did not start off on the right foot for Briarwood either, as Bennett Miles muffed an early Pleasant Grove punt, but the Lions defense held strong and Briarwood escaped unfazed by the miscue.

Finally, late in the third quarter, the Lions found some offensive momentum. From their own 32, Briarwood started driving. A crucial 22-yard pass from Gray to Tran-Reno kept the drive alive and put the ball down on the Pleasant Grove 26-yard line. The Lions pulled off some misdirection on the ensuing play, as Luke Miskelley took a reverse down to the two-yard line. Gray eventually snuck across the goal line for the score. The Lions tried for a two-point conversion, but the attempt failed and the score read 7-6 with less than a minute left in the third quarter.

After the Briarwood defense held the Spartans Briarwood started driving again from its own 32. A crucial 16-yard run from Gray on third down kept the drive alive, then Gray connected with Miskelley for a beautiful touchdown, but that score was also called back due to an ineligible receiver downfield, marking the second Briarwood score that had been called back due to penalty. Eddy however made up for his earlier drop with a neat 31-yard catch on a slant route across the middle of the field, bringing the ball down to the two-yard line before Briarwood scored again from close range.

On another trick play on the ensuing two-point try, it was Miskelley who found Gray in the end zone for what looked like a successful two-point try, but the play was ruled incomplete, and the Lions held a slim 12-7 lead.

The lead proved to be enough, however, as the Briarwood defense held the Spartans on a crucial fourth-and-one on the next series, and after the Lions were forced to punt on their next drive, Mark Hand picked off a Jackson pass to seal the win.

Briarwood has now won eight games in a row and stands at 8-1 (7-0) on the season. The Lions will wrap up the regular season next week with a game against Madison Academy before the Lions turn their full attention to their first-round playoff date with Corner High School.