Still breathing: Briarwood wins Final Four game in PKs to advance to state title
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor
HUNTSVILLE – The last two years in Huntsville haven’t gone according to plan for the Briarwood Lions with both ending in heartbreak after difficult state championship losses, but Thursday, May 9, came close to making up for it thanks to one kick from Braxton Tubbs.
After 90 grueling minutes of play ended in a 1-1 tie, No. 1 Briarwood and No. 2 Montgomery Academy entered PKs to determine which would move on to the Class 4A-5A State Championship game a day later.
In what already felt like a state title game through the first 90 minutes of play, the two teams picked their five players to send out for the kicks that would decide their season.
For the first few kicks, the two teams went shot-for-shot eventually coming to a 2-2 tie, but then came the difference maker.
On Montgomery Academy’s third kick of PKs, the ball sailed high and hit the cross bar, giving the Lions an advantage.
Logan Frost then stepped up and made it 4-2, forcing the Eagles to have to make two in a row with the Lions also missing one.
Montgomery Academy made the next one, but Tubbs stepped up as Briarwood’s next kicker and had the chance to end it.
He took one short stride toward the ball before letting it fly. The shot left his foot perfectly, and went directly to the right upper 90 of the goal where the keeper had no shot.
With the team on the sideline being held back from eruption as he released the kick, as soon as it hit the back of the net, the Lions stormed into chaos, before huddling together and jumping around with Tubbs in the middle.
Also right in the middle celebrating with the Tubbs and the team was head coach Shawn Brower, who had an elated smile on his face and yelling out to the team, “We’re still breathing,” to signify the team is still alive and advancing.
The Lions then took off in full spring toward the fence to celebrate with the fans that made the two-hour trip north to see exciting game unfold.
And while that final PK kick for Tubbs was the cherry on top for Briarwood in the win, the Lions truly won the game with 20 minutes remaining in regulation.
After a physical battle in the first half featuring a torrid back-and-forth affair led to a scoreless tie at halftime, both teams knew they were a matter of shots away from scoring after several chances throughout; and it showed in the first 20 minutes of the second half.
Montgomery Academy came out pressing, and ended up with a great look early in the period, before Briarwood then came close on a look of its own, but both shots ended up being cleared out of the zone.
But with 25:11 to go, the Eagles struck.
Off a long pass from a teammate, Lucas Rizzo caught the perfect header and sent it directly toward and into the net to break the scoreless tie.
At that moment, Briarwood looked defeated, as any team would after giving up a goal, but the demons of the last two years could have easily slipped into the Lions’ players heads leading to a lack of focus.
Instead, they quickly picked up their heads and continued pushing on, and five minutes later it paid off.
Briarwood earned a corner kick with just a shade less than 21 minutes left in the game, and the ball was played perfectly to the far post where Briggs Latta came running in from just outside of the goalie box, leaped, and on the fly hit a header straight down toward the ground that happened to hit across the goal line for the equalizer.
Had his header not crossed the goal line, a teammate was sitting right there as well, who kicked the ball straight up into the net, so the goal would’ve been good either way, as the Lions tied the game at 1-1 with 20:30 to play.
Both teams had chances over the final 20 minutes of the game, but nobody wanted to make a huge mistake, which led us to overtime.
In the intermission between the end of regulation and overtime, Briarwood chose to sit down on the field, which caused the Eagles to gain some confidence that they were the fresher team, but in the first overtime, the Lions showed they still had their legs under them.
Briarwood came out and controlled the ball for the majority of the first overtime, but never could punch through the game winner despite coming close.
That led to a second overtime where both teams played competitively and got a couple of good looks, but again couldn’t capitalize, which ultimately sent us to PKs to determine the winner.
Briarwood looked calm throughout, as Bailey Morman put the first ball throw followed by Jackson Stubbs and then Sam Jauregui. That’s when
Montgomery Academy fell victim to the cross bar, which led to goals from Frost and Tubbs to seal the emotional and physically draining win.
While the victory doesn’t completely make up for two consecutive state championships losses to Randolph, it was as big a win as any they have had in the last three years, and one that will have them even more energized to redeem those losses when they take on Springville tomorrow night.
On the season, Springville has an overall record of 20-6 and will be coming off a 2-1 victory against St. John Paul II in the semifinals.
Briarwood has now won 10 of its last 11 games to improve to 20-1-3 overall this season. The Lions will go into the state championship game having given up more than one goal just twice this season, and 12 total goals in 24 games. They have also posted 15 shutouts.
Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com.