Briarwood falls to Benjamin Russell after wild second half

Published 11:34 pm Friday, October 20, 2023

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor 

NORTH SHELBY – Leading 21-6 late in the third quarter, the Briarwood Lions were looking to close out a crucial region win against Benjamin Russell, but the final 15 minutes of the game became a track meet on Friday, Oct. 20, ultimately ending with the Wildcats intercepting a ball in the end zone to cement a comeback victory.

Facing a 14-0 deficit at the half, Benjamin Russell turned to the passing attack in the second half, and more specifically, the connection between Gabriel Benton and Malcolm Simmons to power their comeback attempt.

One of the two was responsible for all 25 points in the second half, as Benton ran for the first touchdown of the third quarter before he connected with Simmons on two of the next three touchdowns and David Lawson on the other to give them a 25-21 lead with 2:41 to play.

After forcing a Briarwood interception, it looked like the Wildcats were going to close out the comeback, but, with time running out, Briarwood’s defense forced a punt with 25 seconds to play.

The snap ended up sailing over the punters head before it was downed at the Benjamin Russell 4-yard line with 18 seconds to play.

On the first play, however, the Lions faked a wildcat and reversed it to quarterback Josh Thompson who tried to fit the ball in a tight window only to have Simmons standing there to make a toe-tapping interception to end a rollercoaster ending.

“The first half was really physical. Benjamin Russell did a good job of, at least offensively, taking the physical out of it by throwing the ball,” Briarwood head coach Matthew Forester said after the emotional loss. “It was a tale of two halves from a physical standpoint, a different second half. From the highest of the highs to the lowest of the lows. It’s a game. It’s what you appreciate about the game of football is that it teaches these lessons. They’re not pleasant, they’re not fun. When you’re down, you have to battle back and when you’re on the mountain top, you have to stay focused and keep working.”

The interception ended a wild game that started with a slugfest in the first half, which was going Briarwood’s way.

A fast first quarter opened with Briarwood’s defense shining, ultimately forcing a punt that went off the back of a Benjamin Russell blocker. After a penalty due to an illegal touch forced another kick, the Lions were set up with strong field position.

Starting on the Wildcats’ end of the field, they used a physical run game to march down the field, ultimately leading to the first of two first-half touchdown runs for Luke Reynolds from 8 yards out.

Benjamin Russell looked to have an answer shortly after, but the Lions came up big defensively again with a fourth-and-1 stop deep in their own territory.

The Lions were forced to punt on the ensuing drive, but the stop kept the Wildcats off the scoreboard.

That Briarwood punt was part of a stretch where the two teams punted on four consecutive drives, making that first score more and more important.

Then, the Lions put together a key drive just before the halftime break.

Starting at their own 6-yard line, they marched 94 yards on the legs of Reynolds and Thompson. The two had runs of 25, 16 and 12 yards, while a key pass interference call and pass to Caleb Keller set up Reynolds for a 9-yard touchdown run to make it 14-0 at the half with the Lions set to get the ball to start the second half.

Benjamin Russell, however, came out with a big stop in the second half.

The Lions were able to eat a lot of clock on the opening drive of the half, but they were ultimately forced to punt from Wildcats’ territory.

Benjamin Russell capitalized, putting together strong drive that ended with Benton powering through four tacklers for the team’s first touchdown of the night. After a blocked extra point, it was 14-6 with 2:09 to play in the third quarter.

That became the first of three touchdowns over the next 45 seconds.

Briarwood answered in three plays, going 65 yards in the blink of an eye capped off by a Grey Reebals touchdown run to make it 21-6 with 1:36 to play in the third quarter.

What could’ve been a back-breaking moment for the Wildcats in their comeback attempt wasn’t, as they responded one play later when Benton hit Simmons over the middle before Simmons broke a tackle and sprinted 75 yards to the house for his first touchdown of the night.

Then, after forcing a Briarwood punt, Benjamin Russell used its high-flying and now confident offense to lead to a touchdown from Benton to Wilson to cut the deficit to 21-19 with 8:56 to play.

The Lions got to midfield on the next drive, but they were forced into fourth-and-2 from the Wildcats’ 42-yard line and decided to go for it.

Benjamin Russell stuffed the run play to the left side of the line and took over with 6:09 left.

A big third down play quickly moved the Wildcats into Briarwood territory, and shortly after, on fourth-and-1, Benton hit Simmons for a one-handed grab on what looked like a busted run play to put the Wildcats on top 25-21.

The Lions then threw an interception, giving it back to the Wildcats, but they quickly were forced into the punt situation.

Briarwood’s final chance was squandered a play later when Simmons left his final impact on the game with the game-clinching interception.