Gut-wrenching: Briarwood loses heartbreaker in 5A State Championship
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor
TUSCALOOSA – On Friday, Dec. 7, 2007, the Briarwood Lions and St. Paul’s Saints met at Legion Field for the 5A state championship—a game the Saints won 14-13 to end the Lions’ season in heartbreaking fashion when Matthew Gordon’s game-tying PAT attempt was blocked with nine seconds left.
Fast forward 10 years to the day on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, this time in the famed Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, and the ending was just as heartbreaking as the Lions fell 17-14 in the final two minutes of the game.
“It’s just competition,” Briarwood head coach Fred Yancey said after the game. “When you’re a competitor you win some and you lose some and boy this was just one of those that was difficult to lose, but I’m so proud to be here and so proud of my players.”
It’s a competition that the Lions seemed to have in hand late in the game after holding a 14-3 lead with 1:07 left in the third quarter.
That 11-point Briarwood lead came on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Michael Hiers to Hudson Hartsfield, who had an unbelievable state championship game.
Just a mere 16 seconds later St. Paul’s Swift Lyle answered with a clutch deep pass Jarrett Eaton over the middle of the field. Once the Briarwood defender tripped up over his own feet it led to an easy 57-yard touchdown pass that Eaton was able to walk into the end zone.
After the missed extra point Briarwood’s lead was cut to 14-9 with one quarter remaining.
“When there was a minute and seven seconds left and it was 14-3, I said there was 13 minutes left for most of our guys for the rest of our lives playing football,” Lyle said. “I just said ‘you gotta put everything you have on the field with no regrets and within 16 seconds we scored a touchdown.”
It was a lead that held up deep into the fourth quarter for Briarwood and looked like it was going to lead the Lions to victory.
With 8:17 remaining in the final quarter, Briarwood took over at its own 29-yard line looking for a long drive to ice the game. Behind runs of 7, 13, 7, 2, 11, 2 and 5 yards from sophomore running back Luke Prewett, the Lions found themselves in a third 3 situation from the St. Paul’s 22-yard line with 4:30 remaining.
Briarwood was stuffed on third down setting up fourth and 3 as they brought the field goal unit out.
Instead of attempting the 37-yard field goal, Briarwood brought Hiers around the end after the snap tossed him the ball and he looked down field for Josef Mungenast.
But Hiers’ pass sailed 2 yards too far out of reach of the outstretched Mungenast’s hands, which led to a turnover on downs with 4:13 remaining.
“If we get that, we win the game,” Yancey said of the fake field goal attempt. “We ran that earlier in the year to test it out and decided to try and catch them off guard in that situation.”
Instead it led to the Saints taking over on their own 22-yard line with 4:13 trailing 14-9.
After one first down got them out to their own 36-yard line, a hold set up second and 32 from their own 14-yard line as their odds started to dwindle away.
St. Paul’s eventually faced a third and 32 where the Saints were able to gain a chunk of yardage back with an 18-yard run by Swift.
On fourth and 14 with 2:59 left to play and the game on the line, Swift made another big play by finding Alabama commit Jalyn Armour for a 56-yard gain all the way down to the Briarwood 12-yard line.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Briarwood defense stepped up and forced another fourth down just a few plays later from the Lions’ 6-yard line.
Swift stepped up again with no worry about him and completed his second fourth down play of the drive with the game on the line, this time it was a dagger for Briarwood as he found Oliver Willman for the 6-yard touchdown.
“I know the players are going to make the plays and the line is going to block for us,” Lyle said of his composure during the biggest plays of his football career. “You just have to get the ball to the players and let them make the play and that’s what they did.”
After the 2-point conversion was converted, St. Paul’s held the 17-14 lead making that decision not to kick the field goal even more crucial for Briarwood.
“I saw my life go before my eyes,” Yancey said of the 56-yard fourth down play. “It’s just one of those plays where the guy got loose and the quarterback spotted him. It just happens in football. We certainly didn’t mean for that to happen, but it did.”
Briarwood still had one last chance with 1:47 left to play and they took advantage of it early in the drive.
Hiers immediately completed a 16-yard pass to Carson Eddy, which was followed by a pass interference on the next play. All of a sudden, the Lions were across midfield in less than 30 seconds.
After another pass interference by St. Paul’s on JR Tran-Reno, Briarwood found itself at the St. Paul’s 35-yard line with just over a minute to play.
Unfortunately, Hiers was sacked on the next play leading to second and 18. The Lions failed to move the ball another yard and on fourth and 18 Hiers’ last pass of the game sailed just over Hartsfield, who got tripped up on the play.
Hiers ended the night 8-of-18 for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Both of those touchdowns went to Hartsfield, who ended with 78 yards receiving. Hartsfield had a clutch catch on fourth down in the first half followed by a touchdown later that drive and a clutch catch in the second half as well followed by another touchdown.
“We’ve had a connection all year,” Hiers said of Hartsfield after. “Hudson did a great job of getting open and making some great catches.”
Tran-Reno ended the night with 48 yards rushing and six yards receiving, while Prewett had 52 yards on the ground.
Gabriel Russel led the defense as he has all year with nine tackles on the night and one tackle for loss.
Briarwood ended the season with an overall record of 14-1 and as the runner up in the 5A classification.
While it was a tough moment for seniors like Hartsfield, Russell and Carson Donnelly, who couldn’t help but be overcome with emotion as tears filled their eyes after the game, but it’s an accomplishment each of them agreed they would never forget.
“This is an experience I’ll never forget,” Russell said after the game. “Obviously we would have loved to have won, but just playing with these guys that I’ve grown up with, it’s just something I’ll always remember.”
Yancey also had an uplifting message for his guys after his third semifinal loss in his last three attempts.
“My players are a lot like me,” Yancey said. “Because we are competitors it hurts to lose, but because we are competitors we got here. If we would have won we would be so happy, but it doesn’t change the fact that these guys did a great job tonight.”
Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com