Briarwood’s season ends with 2-point loss to Pleasant Grove

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

NORTH SHELBY – Standing near midfield, first year Briarwood head coach Matthew Forester looked down at this first team of players after a 16-14 loss to Pleasant Grove in the semifinals of the Class 5A semifinals on Friday, Nov. 29.

“I know the scoreboard says we lost, but none of you are losers,” Forester told his group. “You are all winners in life and you have done things this year that go beyond the football field.”

While the message was received with tears filling the eyes of many players down on one knee, especially the seniors, it’s a testament to a season where Briarwood went from losing its first two games to winning 11 games in a row and finishing with a two-point loss in the semifinals to a team that beat the Lions 26-14 two weeks into the season.

“I’m proud of the foundation these seniors have set and the way they led. It was just incredible,” Forester said. “I’m nothing but proud of how hard they fought and how well they played all year in battle.”

Coming into the game, the two teams were giving up 15 points per game on the season, and the two defenses played like it for the majority of the first half.

Briarwood’s offense struggled to find any sort of momentum in the opening half of the game, but the defense made several big plays.

Pleasant Grove was able to find some success moving the football at times behind a few explosive plays, but the Lions stepped up on multiple occasions defensively.

The first was a Miller Stubblefield sack on the Briarwood 26 on fourth-and-5, which led to a turnover on downs. The next two were big goal line stands.

After Pleasant Grove had two plays from the Lions’ 1-yard line a drive later, Briarwood stepped up and eventually forced a turnover on downs.

The Lions had to quickly punt the ball back after just trying to get it out of their own end zone, which led to the Spartans grabbing good field position at their own 49-yard line.

One play later, Pleasant Grove was able to put the first points on the board when quarterback Zyquez Perryman hit Xavier Hill over the middle of the field for a 51-yard touchdown pass to take a 7-0 lead with 5:25 to play in the second quarter.

The Spartans stepped up defensively and quickly got the ball back after forcing a Briarwood three-and-out. Starting at their own 20-yard line, the Spartans marched down the field and inside the 10-yard line again.

But Briarwood’s defense made another big stop. With an offense that isn’t built to come from behind, the Lions needed to avoid a 14-0 hole and that’s what happened when the defense eventually forced a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line.

With the make, Pleasant Grove took a 10-0 lead with 40 seconds left in the half, but the Lions were grateful to only be down 10.

“The two fourth down stops were huge plays in the first half,” Forester said. “We knew they had explosive guys, but all we wanted was to tackle them and live to play another down. They did a good job of fighting even with their backs up against the goal line.”

The offense showed their thanks on the ensuing drive behind a strong kickoff return from Parker Hutson that set the Lions up with great field position at the Spartans’ 35-yard line.

Freshman quarterback Christopher Vizzina and receiver Blake McKenna needed just two passes to score. The first was a 6-yard toe-tapping catch from McKenna, while the next was a 24-yard touchdown pass that put the Lions on the board to make the deficit 10-7 heading into the half.

That seemed to give Briarwood a sense of confidence going into the half, while Pleasant Grove finally looked susceptible.

Coming out of the halftime break, the Lions capitalized on that and getting the ball first.

Senior running back Luke Prewett returned the opening kick in the second half 44 yards to the Lions’ side of the field. He then reeled off back-to-back runs of 13 and 26 yards, the second of which went for the final touchdown of his high school career to give Briarwood its first lead of the game at 14-10 with 10:57 to play in the third quarter.

“We felt that emotionally, they were just a little down and we could just kind of ram it down their throats to start the third quarter, and we did a good job of that,” Forester said.

For a while, it looked as if that might also be the game-winning touchdown with the way Briarwood’s defense was playing, but the offense didn’t have as much success the rest of the half, which led to a lot of time on the field for the defense.

Trailing 14-10 with 6:58 to play, the Spartans weren’t ready to let their shot at a state championship slip away just yet.

They put together a 13-play drive featuring several clutch plays and highlighted by an 11-yard fade touchdown pass on third-and-11 with 1:56 to play in the game.

With the Spartans missing the extra point, Briarwood just needed a field goal to win the game.

But after getting to first-and-10 from the Pleasant Grove 48-yard line, the Lions went on to go four yards the wrong direction before a fourth down pass fell to the ground to end the 16-14 game and the Briarwood season.

“It was just one of those games where they had a few players make a few plays and a couple plays didn’t go our way,” Forester said.

Briarwood finished the 2019 season, Forester’s first, with a 12-2 overall record, and while they’ll lose several key players, they’ll also get back some experience looking to build off a special year.

Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com.