And for the record, the state championships of classes 1A, 4A and 6A were decided last week, in FNL's opinion.
To the categories:
GAME STORY: When I said in the preview it was an "Iron Bowl" future glimpse, I was talking about the two quarterbacks. It turned out to nearly a replay of the 1972 Iron Bowl, played at Legion Field, where two late blocked punts and a blocked PAT by Auburn did the Tide in, 17-16. This game ended with two blocked punts getting Briarwood in position to win, and a blocked PAT by St. Paul's clinching the 14-13 victory, and their first football state title.
"For us to hold them like we did on defense is a testament to these players," said St. Paul's coach Mike Bates.
Briarwood's Fred Yancey said, "We didn't fear them. They didn't fear us. We made some critical mistakes that came back to bite us."
St Paul's took the opening kick and drove 70 yards on the strength of Mark Barron's 52-yard run. Mickey Brown missed a 27-yard field goal, however, and Briarwood took over at the 20.
Barrett Trotter hit Jonathan Sillers for 19 yards to convert a third down, but James McRae sacked Trotter for minus-16 to kill the march. Trotter punted 59 yards to the five-yard line.
That didn't faze AJ McCarron, who found an open Irvin Rentz for 57 yards on first down. Again, the Lions held. Though the Saints didn't score, they flipped field position when Ryan Zarzour punted 34 yards to the 13.
After a defensive stand and 46-yard Trotter punt gave the Saints the ball at their own 39, but Zarzour then punted to the Briarwood 11. What many thought would be a shoot-out was looking more like a shutout.
Then, a Trotter pass bounced off a receiver into the waiting hands of Daniel Martin, who went weaving through traffic to give St. Paul's the lead with 7:57 left in the half. Bates then called for an onside kick, and the Saints recovered Brown's squib at the Briarwood 47.
What could have been a McCarron pick was dropped by Matthew Gordon, and the Saints turned to the ground game for the rest of the march. Ivan Matchett crashed in from a yard out with 2:42 left in the half coupled with Brown's boot gave the Saints a two-score lead.
Not to be outdone, Trotter found Zeke Walters between two Saints for 41 yards. But on fourth-and-goal from the three, the Saints held when Barron and Martin tackled Jonathan Sillers for a loss as time expired in the half.
Barron said the "Bear" defensive call worked, "Everybody just did their part, and I'm running free to make the play. It works every time."
The second half began with Briarwood going to the option on a 67-yard march in 100 seconds. Sillers had runs of 18 and 14 to set up his own six-yard touchdown catch to cut the lead in half.
The Lions' next possession began at their own 46, after a 22-yard punt return by Will Tumlin. Barron sacked Trotter, but it didn't count because the Saints were hit with defensive holding.
Trotter scrambled for nine and a first down, and Gordon missed a 39-yard field goal attempt, which could have been 34 but for a delay of game. The fourth quarter began with the Saints clinging to their one touchdown lead.
With 11 minutes remaining, Briarwood went no-huddle, got a first down, and then Trotter punted 45 yards to the three-yard line. Matchett powered 15 yards to get his team out of the shadow, but the Lions then forced a punt and took over at their own 40 with seven minutes on the clock.
Still in the no-huddle, the Lions moved into Saints' territory before Barron intercepted Trotter at the 28.
Walker May blocked Zarzour's punt with 3:06 remaining to set Briarwood up at the Saints' 22. With 1:44 left, Rentz dove in front of a Trotter pass and picked it off at the two.
Then, Jake Moorer blocked a Zarzour kick, and May took in to set up potential over-time.
"Potential" became moot when Josh Lancaster dove in front of Gordon's PAT attempt, caught it with his forearm, and it sailed wide left to send the Saints' stands into delirium.
"I just went straight through there, prayed to God, and blocked it," said Lancaster.
TOP PROSPECTS: Gotta call it a draw between Briarwood's Trotter and St. Paul's Barron. Trotter is headed to Auburn, and finished 13-27 for 126 yards, and three interceptions. The 6-1 senior threw for 3,446 yards in a 15-game season. For good measure, he punted three times for a 50-yard average, and ran for 47 yards. His skills are undeniable. His three picks were untimely.
Barron, who may see time in the Alabama secondary as a true freshman, made six tackles en route to game MVP honors. Barron is a reliable offensive player, too, as evidenced by his 91 yards on 12 totes. However, defense is where he excels.
Former Auburn defensive back Chip Powell said, "That No. 4 (Barron) is the best player on the field." Powell calls Prattville games on radio and was on hand to check out the talent.
SENIORS WHO SHINED: St. Paul's ground game revolves around Tide commitment Ivan Matchett (5-10, 220), and he ran 20 times for 98 yards. The Saints will miss receiver Destin Hood, who caught two balls for 17 yards but shut out Briarwood's leading receiver, Gordon. Sylvester Croom is recruiting Louis Watson, whose track speed makes him an interesting prospect.
Briarwood features Mississippi State commitment Bo Walters (6-1, 227) at linebacker, and he finished with nine stops. The offense has receivers William Hoke and Matthew Gordon along with fullback Jonathan Sillers to support Trotter. Hoke's older brother, is a reserve tight end in Tuscaloosa.
JUNIORS TO WATCH: AJ McCarron gets a lot of ink, and rightfully so. But if he's a young Eli Manning, which many say, then a young man who played in the first game of the day is at least a young Brodie Croyle. Leroy's Clint Moseley is 6-foot-4 with a Gatlin gun built into his right arm. Moseley went 16-27 for 243 yards and three TDs en route to MVP honors in Leroy's 25-20 win over Fyffe in the 2A title tilt. McCarron finished the night 9-14 for 112 yards.
The Mobile area's top sack artist moved in from Pensacola Woodham, and you can be sure coach Bates is glad Mike Thomas did. The 6-4, 260-pounder is a young Wallace Gilberry or Antonio Coleman, take your pick.
Safety Andrew Miller (6-0, 180) is the glue that helps the Saints' defense stick together. Miller made seven stops.
SUPER SOPHS: He is only 5-foot-9, but Justin (son of Sam) Shade hits like a ton of bricks. He made a game-high 10 tackles. As the season wore on, the role of Caleb Castille (5-10, 145) increased for Yancey and the Lions. The slim speedster is the youngest son of Jeremiah, and younger brother to Tim and Simeon. His stat line on the night showed nine yards on two carries and a catch for five more. Yancey says Caleb has a great future. Zeke Walters' big Lynn Swann-type catch bodes well for his future.
HOW 'BOUT THAT CHICKEN: Pretty good chicken fingers and honey mustard at the half. And they had plenty to go around. That's saying something with media around. Really.
UP NEXT: FNL will feature an abbreviated hoops schedule, and check out prospects like John Carroll's Andrew Steele, JaMychal Green of St. Jude's and even footballers on the hardwood like Pickens County's Michael Williams and Mardrecas Hood when they entertain Brandon Gottfried and the ACA Patriots.
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