Briarwood’s playoff run finishes against Saraland

Published 11:51 pm Friday, November 17, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

NORTH SHELBY – The Briarwood Christian Lions’ season came to an end in the second round as the Lions couldn’t keep up with the highly recruited, top-ranked talent of the No. 1 Saraland Spartans in a 51-14 loss.

Despite the loss, Lions coach Matthew Forester kept everything in perspective and took pride in his team’s effort to make it back to the second round after missing out on the playoffs last year and battle with a talented side.

“I’m proud of these seniors,” Forester said. “It’s never the way you want to end, but there’s only one team in 6A that’s going to end with a win and so I’ll be interested to see what happens. Hats off to our guys battling and fighting. They did the best they could, and that’s a stout team over there.”

While the final score was lopsided, Briarwood got the perfect start with a 66-yard pass from Josh Thompson to Caleb Keller to the 3-yard line that made the stands erupt.

Cooper Higgins capped off the quick drive with a touchdown run on the next play, and the Lions led 7-0 just 1:05 into the game to put Saraland behind for just the third time this season.

However, Saraland struck on its first offensive play of the game as KJ Lacey hit Dillion Alfred for a 64-yard catch and run to knot up the score at 7.

After a Grey Reebals first down run, Saraland’s Chris Thompson came up with a fumble recovery to regain possession.

From there, Ryan Williams showed his skills for the Spartans by converting a 4th and 1 with a catch and then making a toe-tapping grab in the back of the end zone to give Saraland the 14-7 lead with 7:23 remaining in the first quarter.

Briarwood’s next drive ended in a punt, but the decision to kick it short ended up with Williams bringing the ball back for a punt return touchdown to increase the lead to 21-7.

Another Lions punt then led to a lengthy score by Santae McWilliams Jr., who carried the ball 64 yards for Saraland’s fourth touchdown right as the first quarter ended.

The Spartans then recovered the ensuing Briarwood kickoff, and then McWilliams Jr. punched in a 2-yard rushing touchdown to go up 35-7 with 11:02 remaining in the half.

From there, Briarwood found more success on defense as the half drew to a close. The Lions recovered from a 26-yard gain to force a turnover on downs on the next Saraland drive thanks to a fourth down tackle on Lacey by Jack Cornish.

Ethan Carr then picked off a pass from Lacey on the following Spartans drive, and that helped keep Saraland out of the end zone for the rest of the half to keep the score at 35-7 at the break.

However, Saraland started scoring again in the third quarter and kept the game out of reach. Williams hit the end zone on a 42-yard reverse, and then the Lions held the Spartans to a 29-yard field goal.

Finally, Deshawn Spencer wrapped up Saraland’s scoring with a rushing touchdown to go up 51-7 as the third quarter came to an end.

Briarwood would find the end zone again prior to the end of the game thanks to a solid offensive drive. Thompson found Keller for a first down, and then the Lions signal caller threw a perfectly placed ball into coverage in the end zone for a touchdown to cut the lead to 51-14, which proved to be the final score.

Thompson went 7-for-10 passing for 64 yards, a touchdown and an interception, with Keller as his top target with two catches for 93 yards. Higgins had eight carries for 21 yards and a touchdown on the ground, and Click had three catches for 35 yards and a receiving touchdown.

Cornish had 11 tackles, including seven solo tackles, to lead the team. Carr had eight tackles in addition to his interception, Rylan Hamm and Luke Reynolds each had seven tackles and two pass break-ups, and Andrew Kassouf also had seven tackles, including five solo tackles.

After the game, Forester looked back on a season where the Lions turned around a 3-7 record from 2022, reloaded in key positions and made it back to the second round.

He knew that not everybody expected them to get here, and he chalked that up to the players’ hard work and will to improve, which he hopes will help them succeed in life.

“What these seniors did was pretty remarkable,” Forester said. “Everybody counted them out. Everybody said it’s not going to happen this year, be tough to even make the playoffs. And they battled. They were within eight points of winning the region championship.

“And it was their will every Friday night. But it’s also the will over the summer, show up, wake up early, do all those things. It’s hard to be a football player. It’s not easy. And then you’ve got nights like this that aren’t easy either, but it’s a representation of life.”

While Forester kept the focus on the accomplishments of this year’s team and the seniors, he was excited for the success that he believes Briarwood will have in the future because of what they did this year.

“Right now is the time to honor the seniors,” Forester said. “But as a coach, you’re building a program. It’s not just one team. So, I’m incredibly proud of the ‘23 team and incredibly proud of the seniors, how they’ve worked, and then knowing that the groundwork they’ve laid, the groundwork that past seniors have laid have set us up to be successful over the next couple of years because of their commitment.

“So, I’m excited for the future. And it’s a lot because of what the seniors have done.”