Briarwood falls in semifinals

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

NORTH SHELBY – The Briarwood Lions and Wenonah Dragons met in a semifinal matchup on Friday, Nov. 25, with a trip to Auburn for the state championship on the line. The game was a rematch of a game played back on Sept. 9 that the Lions won 15-14.

Similar to the first game, Briarwood held the Dragons to 14 points, but the Lions were only able to manage eight as they came up one game short of a state championship appearance.

“They’re just real athletic and they hustle,” said Lions’ head coach Fred Yancey of the visiting Dragons. “They have good schemes and a good defense, which is tough to beat.”

Chaos ensued late in the game, which gave Briarwood several opportunities to walk away with a come from behind win, but they couldn’t quite get over the hurdle.

The first half was a much expected defensive battle, but each team had their opportunities. The Lions went on a long 12-play drive late in the first quarter that saw them go from their own 22-yard line to inside the Dragons’ 10. After having a first and goal from the nine-yard line, Briarwood was unable to get any closer than the six and missed a field goal on fourth down.

Wenonah wasted no time taking advantage of the Lions’ misfortune as they had a 31-yard pass to get to midfield and then a 49-yard touchdown run to go up 7-0.

That would be all of the first half scoring, but it only took a few seconds for Briarwood to answer with a score as sophomore JR Tran-Reno took the opening kickoff of the second half 90 yards for a touchdown. The Lions failed to convert the two-point attempt and trailed 7-6.

“That was just tremendous,” Yancey said. “We weren’t able to solve their defense enough to get a lot of points so that helped.”

On the ensuing Dragons’ drive, junior quarterback Carlos Rogers escaped the Briarwood pressure twice on the drive for two big scrambles, one of which went for a touchdown. His evasiveness and speed put Wenonah on top 14-6.

Both defenses battled back and forth for the rest of the third quarter and a chunk of the fourth, before things started getting interesting midway through the final quarter.

With 5:12 left to play, the Lions forced Wenonah into a fourth and long and their first punt of the game. Briarwood decided they had nothing to lose and brought pressure off the edge and blocked the punt.

“We came out here to win tonight,” Yancey said.

The Lions took over on the Wenonah 37-yard line and in two plays had made it to the 20. The drive stalled and Briarwood faced a fourth and seven that they weren’t able to convert causing them to turn it over on downs with 2:34 left to play.

Briarwood, however, wasn’t ready to roll over just yet. With two timeouts left they were able to force a quick three-and-out and another Dragons punt. On the punt Wenonah looked confused as the punter took the snap and ran to the near sideline in the end zone like he was trying to throw the ball, but then out of nowhere he decided to punt it.

The punt was blocked again and rolled around for a few seconds before it rolled out of the back of the end zone right as a Lions’ player jumped on it causing a safety instead of a touchdown.

Although it wasn’t quite the touchdown Briarwood needed, they once again had life as the score was trimmed to 14-8 and they were set to receive the ball with 2:10 still left on the clock.

On the first play the Lions’ final possession senior quarterback William Gray dropped back and hailed a deep pass over the middle of the field to receiver Carson Eddy when a Wenonah freshman safety jumped in front of Eddy to intercept the ball and end Briarwood’s season.

The game featured a little bit of everything, but in the end the Lions’ suffered a heartbreaking 14-8 loss.

“They’ve been getting in the 40’s most games and we knew our defense would play them a tough game, we just needed to trade points better than we did,” Yancey said. “In football games when two teams like this play, a good ones not gonna make it.”

It marks the end of a magical season for Briarwood, but a lot of key pieces will return on both the defensive and offensive line, as well as offensive standouts Tran-Reno and Eddy. They will lose Gray, who will be extremely tough to replace, but the future is still very bright for this Lions’ squad.