Emerging from the fog: Briarwood advances to state title in wild win

By SETH HAGAN | For the Reporter 

NORTH SHELBY – There was something magical hanging in the air over Briarwood Christian–and it wasn’t the fog. The Lions, stifled in the first half, put together a comeback for the ages to propel themselves over the Saints of St. Clair County, 37-33 and into next week’s 5A state championship game.

The second half alone was worth the price of admission, but things looked bleak in the first half for BCS. St. Clair County (9-5, 5-2) came out swinging on the road and landed their first punch on a 66-yard drive that took more than five minutes off the clock to take a 6-0 lead.

The Saints defense followed with the same intensity quickly shutting down Briarwood’s running game. JR Tran-Reno, who came into the game as one of the state’s most versatile offensive players could only muster three yards on four carries in the first half.

The Lions pinned the Saints on their own 1-yard line on the next possession and forced a punt three plays later.

After a shanked punt, BCS found themselves on St. Clair’s 24-yard line to start the drive, but the Saints stood strong again forcing a short field goal by Noah Nall to maintain their lead, 6-3.

SCHS continued to bewilder the Lions on defense going right back down the field on the ensuing drive on the strength of Michael Fisher’s quarterback draws and running back Rodney Jones galloping around the edge.

Jones put the Saints up 13-3 on his second touchdown of the first half from 13 yards out.

BCS briefly found their rhythm on offense driving into St. Clair’s red zone a few minutes later, but quarterback Michael Hiers was sacked on the Saints’ 14-yard line and fumbled right into the waiting hands of St. Clair’s Skyler Mizzel who returned it 86 yards the other way for a stunning touchdown and a 20-3 lead.

The Lions dialed up a superb screen on the very next play to pull off a big answer as Luke Prewett broke tackle after tackle for a 65-yard score.

However, the Saints were able to one-up Briarwood yet again with one more spectacular play as a play action fake left Ja’Varrius Johnson wide open for an 89-yard scamper to retake their 17-point lead, 27-10, in a wild game of fireworks.

“We really were having trouble moving them,” said BCS head coach Fred Yancey. “Their pass rush in the first half was eating us up.”

Headed into halftime the Lions were down, but not out.

“It wasn’t what I said it was their determination and heart,” said Yancey. “We did challenge them and try to lead them, but our guys had a lot inside that said they wanted to win.”

“Everyone in the locker room said we were going to fight and come back and win it and that’s what we did,” said Lions’ QB Michael Hiers. “Coach called great plays and we executed them.”

On the second drive of the second half the Lions’ offense began to click and Hiers got in the zone with a little help from Tran-Reno, who found his niche as a receiver on the outside.

Hiers hit 13 of his next 16 passes for 157 yards, as the Lions scored on back-to-back drives, which sandwiched a key interception by Andrew Sherrod.

The defense answered the call in the second half as well, shutting down the next Saints’ drive and forcing a fumble on the following drive.

Briarwood capitalized once more helmed again by Hiers and Tran-Reno, who hooked up on a 43-yard bomb to put themselves in Saints’ territory.

“I liked that before the snap,” said Hiers. “I saw him and the safety and I liked the matchup and I knew he’d catch it so I threw it to him.”

Hiers finished the job on a 25-yard romp into the end zone to give Briarwood its first lead of the game at 31-27.

St. Clair County had one last gasp and they made it count, taking advantage of a pass interference call on the Lions that extended the drive. Three plays later the Saints dialed up a screen to Ja’Varrius Johnson who blew past several defenders on his way to a 60-yardyard touchdown.

The Lions again faced a deficit with just over two minutes remaining.

“I didn’t know what to think except I thought we’d blown our chance,” Yancey said. “But Michael told me, he said ‘We’re okay’ and tonight every time he told me we were okay he was right and he picked me up.”

It was Hiers’ night, going 31-of-42 for 326 yards, and he took his home field for the last time with a little help from a fellow senior, Carson Eddy.

Eddy accounted for over a third of Hiers’ completions on the night and scored on a 3-yard rushing touchdown to open the second half, but his last drive was his best.

Eddy took the ensuing Saints kickoff and scurried up the sideline as he returned the ball all the way to the Lions’ 49-yard line. Two plays later, BCS was cornered again on a third-and-13 when Eddy broke loose for the final time.

“I was supposed to run 14 yards and come back, but the corner wasn’t looking and I just ran right past him,” Eddy said. “Me and Michael just made a play, he threw it up and I wasn’t going to drop it.”

He finished with 117 yards on a game-high 11 receptions. Tran-Reno also caught eight balls for 122 yards—all in the second half. After Eddy’s big catch put the Lions in the red zone, Tran-Reno took it the final three plays for the game-winning touchdown with 23 seconds to go.

Briarwood (14-0, 7-0) faces one final test: The St. Paul’s Saints. The two teams will dual in Tuscaloosa for the 5A title in Bryant-Denny Stadium next Thursday, Dec. 7 at 7 p.m.

Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com