Briarcrest falls late to unbeaten MUS

Saints running back Charles Elliot rumbles toward the endzone dragging a defender. He had 48 yards against MUS on Friday. Photo by Kevin Lewter.

Saints running back Charles Elliot rumbles toward the endzone dragging a defender. He had 48 yards against MUS on Friday. Photo by Kevin Lewter.

Bobby Wade did after his game with Briarcrest what he did before it: Sleep.

“I’ve got to sleep before games, just about an hour,” said Wade, who needed his rest after Friday’s game.

Starting at quarterback for Memphis University School, Wade played every snap on offense (53) and every play on defense (63) at safety. He ran for two touchdowns, rushed for a game-high 111 yards and made a pivotal fourth-quarter interception with 1:28 left to seal the Owls’ 21-17 come-from-behind victory over the Saints at MUS.

“I will probably sleep all right,” Wade said after the game.

The win gave MUS the Division 2-AA West Region championship and home field advantage throughout playoff semifinals. It also assured the Owls another week to be ranked No. 1 in the state among Division 2 schools.

It also gave MUS its 13th straight win over Briarcrest, whose last victory came in 2003.

“Tonight is as sweet a victory as I have ever had,” MUS Head Coach Bobby Alston said. “Down 17-0, everybody got their head down. We lost two good players. They (Saints) are a good football team. When their seniors were freshmen they beat us like five touchdowns (in a freshman game). They were really good. We knew that we were going to have a fight on our hands. I am proud of these guys coming back like they did.”

Briarcrest’s defense had limited MUS to 62 yards total offense in the first half while building a 17-0 lead.

MUS captain and senior linebacker Evan Smith broke his left fibula with 9:57 left in the second quarter. (He was scheduled for surgery this week.)

Against St. Benedict on Sept. 30, the Owls’ leading tackler Matthew Rhodes, a sophomore, broke his leg.

On Sept. 23, MUS starting quarterback Steven Regis, a senior, separated his throwing shoulder against Ridgeway.

Junior linebacker Buchanan Dunavant said, “The best thing about this victory is that our team can face adversity and this is just another example. Our mindset the whole time, was that we are going to win the game. We weren’t scared of anything tonight. We lost our captain. Last weekend we lost a sophomore linebacker who had been starting, so a lot of people have been stepping up and leading. We were a little flustered after our starting linebacker (Smith) went down, but we calmed down and started communicating more and started playing with emotion and intensity. We sealed the deal in the second half.”

MUS improved to 8-0, 2-0 in region. Briarcrest, which entered as the No. 5-ranked Division 2 team in the state in the Associated Press poll, fell to 6-2, 1-1.

“The heart of our team,” Alston said of the force behind the win. “I wouldn’t say that we played pretty football the entire year. They don’t give up. They keep fighting, and somebody ends up making a play and gives us a chance to win the game.”

Wade was getting his second straight start.

“When duty calls, you have to be able to step up and play your role,” Wade said. “There is some internal toughness but it is all fueled by the team. It is hard to play full speed when people aren’t behind you. Everybody on this team is behind everybody from offense to defense to special teams to coaches to the water boy. Everybody is supporting everybody.”

His rushing yardage came on 19 carries. He completed 6 of 14 passes and was in on five tackles. Wade had a supporting cast.

MUS linebacker Sean Fitzhenry intercepted Briarcrest quarterback Jackson Walker, returning it 27 yards for at touchdown with 3:19 left in the third quarter.

Wade said, “Sean’s interception turned the game around."

Speaking about the first pick-six of his career, Fitzhenry said, “I just dropped into coverage and I was trying to make a play for my team and the ball came to me. I was running for my life to try to get into the end zone. We needed some momentum. I was about our team and our offense needed a boost. It was just adrenaline. It’s hard to believe at first, then it happens and you are excited for your team and all your focus is on the game. I wasn’t thinking about myself.

“I saw the (Briarcrest) back out of the backfield. I watched the quarterback. He underthrew it a little bit and it came right to me. I bobbled it but I managed to catch it and stayed in bounds. I got some good blocking from my teammates and took it to the house. I could feel the game turning and we never stopped believing in our team, and that is what we needed. This year we have a special team. We are always united. We never stop believing and we trust our coaches, our schemes and we trust ourselves. We are going to stay in this and get the win.”

Wade joined Fitzhenry in taking it to the house. With eight seconds left in the third quarter, Wade scored a touchdown on a 16-yard run. With 1:46 left in the game, Wade ran 22 yards for a touchdown.

After Trey Thomas’ third PAT, the Owls led 21-17 to cap a bizarre fourth quarter.

With 5:11 left, Briarcrest defensive back Tyler Badie intercepted Wade at the Saints’ 1-yard line.

Walker was stopped for a one-yard loss and then fumbled. Maurice Hampton recovered it for the Owls.

Briarcrest was penalized for illegal batting, but the Owls declined.

The Owls’ Bradley Foley ran for 1 yard to the Briarcrest 5. Foley then ran four yards to the 1. On the next play Foley fumbled, and the Saints’ Randall Booker recovered at the goal line.

Briarcrest got as far as the 28-yard line before Connor Shamblin punted. From the MUS 46, Wade threw an 18-yard pass to Hampton to get to the Saints’ 36.

Wade then rushed 14 yards for a first down at the 22 and then scored on the next play.

The Saints had one more shot. From his 25-yard line, Walker threw a pass, but Wade intercepted at the Saints' 39.

“You feel that it is right there in your hands, and our kids—what an amazing feat for them, to stop them at the goal line, to cause a fumble—give us the football back,” Briarcrest Head Coach Brian Stewart said. “I am not going to take anything away from these kids. I should have found a way to move the football and give them a chance to win the game in the second half. We could at least get the clock moving and we could have got out of here 17-14. But I couldn’t. These kids don’t deserve this loss. I’ll take this one. I couldn’t be more proud of our kids the way they played.”

Stewart took pride in running back D.J. Robinson, who scored the Saints’ first touchdown with 9:52 left in the second quarter that gave the Saints a 7-0 lead. Also, Robinson, along with Will Barto and Chase Martin, had five total tackles each.

“He is a great football player,” Stewart said of Robinson, who weighs 245 pounds. “He does a great job for us at running back and at defensive end. He plays so hard. He is a winner.”

Stewart was proud of a 44-yard touchdown pass that Jake Powers threw to Bradley Ellis on a reverse. That gave the Saints a 14-0 lead with 5:52 left in the second quarter.

“That was amazing. We have been working on that one for awhile and had it set up perfectly and it worked,” Stewart said.

What also worked for Briarcrest was Noah Grant. He kicked two extra points and a 20-yard field goal on the last play of the second quarter for the 17-0 halftime lead.

Calling it “relentless defense” that held MUS scoreless and to little offense in the first half, Stewart said players kept “doing your job and playing assignment football. We knew they were going to come out and figure out something else to do and they did. When you give them a pick-six for a touchdown and another turnover down there, you can’t do stuff like that but that is part of the game, part of the learning curve.

“I was proud of our line up front. I think our defense played really well. I was proud of the way they got off the field. I can’t remember how many threes-and-outs they had (MUS was one of eight on third-down conversions) but I thought our defense played lights out. We have been talking about keep fight, keep punching, next, next, next. Just just have to tip your hat to MUS for a great second half. That was unbelievable for them to come back.”

Briarcrest had 217 yards total offense at halftime. The Saints would finish with 110 yards rushing and 165 yards passing (275 total) while MUS rushed for 181 yards and 66 passing (247).

Tyler Badie led the Saints with 59 yards rushing on eight carries, including his longest of 30 yards. Charles Elliott rushed for 48 yards. Walker completed 12 of 23 passes for 121 yards; Powers, one pass for 44 yards.

Both Walker and Wade were intercepted three times. Martin, Badie and Shamblin each got an interception for the Saints while John Bolton of MUS joined Wade and Fitzhenry with one interception each.

MUS was led by Foley, who rushed for 62 yards on 12 carries. Ryan Pahlow gained 19 yards.

“It is the team that makes the fewest mistakes in the biggest games (that win), and we made some mistakes,” Stewart said. Both teams lost one fumble.

When Booker recovered the Owls’ fumble in the end zone as Foley was about to score, “I don’t know who knocked it out, but it popped up in the air and I saw that we had it,” Stewart said. “You would think that is how the story could have ended, just get the football and get a first down and run out the clock, but sometimes things happen.”

What happened at MUS at halftime was Alston reinforcing the game plan.

“Everything is there. We have just got to execute and quit shooting ourselves in the feet with penalties,” Wade said. “I wasn’t really concerned about whether we would be able to get it back or not. Our defense was firing on all cylinders.”

The Owls were penalized eight times for 80 yards in the first half; Briarcrest, three for 24 yards. At the end, MUS would have 95 penalty yards on 11 and the Saints 55 yards on seven.

Wade said that everybody made plays in the second half, “doing what they are supposed to do. Offensively in the second half, everybody was trying to block and trying to make a play happen. Just knowing that our team is able to rally back after that adversity in the first half is really special. I had plenty of bad plays to accompany the good ones. The team supported me even when I made bad plays and good plays. They were always there for me.”

Alston said, “We did a lot in the first half that wasn’t conducive to win and came out of it. We lost a really good player in Evan. They had to do a gut check and decided if we are going to play or not going to play, and they came out and played.”

The Owls scored 14 points in the third quarter.

“They (Saints) play a lot of guys both ways and they got a little tired so they were able to get outside and run around a little but we didn’t get as many dumb penalties. We made some plays. The defensive TD is always big. We have done that a bunch this year,” said Alston, whose team flipped field position at times.

MUS fielded a punt at its 1-yard line with 10:10 left in the third quarter. A 10-yard run by Foley and then his 19-yard run got the Owls to the 35-yard line. Wade ran to the 47-yard line, gaining 11 yards, and Pahlow got nine yards to the Saints’ 44. However, that drive would stall, forcing Daniel Shumake to punt.

In the first quarter Briarcrest got to the Owls’ 27-yard line, but Walker was intercepted by Bolton at the Owls’ 3-yard line. It was an 11-play 59-yard drive which took 3:14. The biggest gain of the drive came when Walker completed a 14-yard pass to Parker Sherrill for 14 yards.

The Saints’ Martin intercepted Wade at the Briarcrest 48 on the next series. Foley had a run of 16 yards; Wade, 10; and Pahlow, 14.

Briarcrest took its 7-0 lead when the Saints capped a 9-play, 52-yard drive.  Badie got a first down at the MUS 29. Elliott ran to the 6 before Robinson scored.

Powers’ TD pass to Elliott topped a two-play, 44-yard drive. The Saints then would take 14 plays for a 69-yard drive that led to Grant’s 20-yard field goal.

Badie’s 30-yard run got the Saints to the MUS 8. A delay of game cost the Saints five yards and Walker threw a 10-yard pass to Mongo to get to the 3. There were five seconds left in the first half.

The Owls’ second touchdown came on a 4-play, 49-yard drive. Wade hit Shumake for a 19-yard pass to get to the Saints’ 24 before Wade scored.

Shumake led MUS receivers with 35 yards on two catches. Hampton had two for 24 yards; Jake Heathcott, one for six yards.

Montgo led the Saints with 21 yards on three receptions. Powers—who has been contacted by Sanford, Centre College and Virginia Military Institute—had three catches for 20 yards, and Bradley Ellis had two catches for 50 yards. Badie had two catches for 30 yards; Sherrill, two for 21; and Dayton Leach, one for 23.

Shamblin had four punts for 90 yards (22.5) while Walker had two for 54.

For MUS, Shumake had five punts for 161 yards (32.2 average).

Shamblin also had 4.0 tackles along with Badie. Powers and Christian Satterfield had 3.5; Griffin Hawkins ands Harrison Elder, 3.0.

The Owls’ Dorian Hopkins had a game-high 12.5 tackles with three tackles for a loss of 15 yards and two sacks for 14 yards. Dunavant had eight tackles; Pahlow, 7.5; Joe Carter, 3; Fitzhenry, 3; and Ogonna Oraedu, 3.

Smith had 2.5 before leaving the game. Fitzhenry and Carter each had two tackles for lost yardage.

Alston bragged on his kicking game. “It was really good game tonight. It gave us good field position and made them have to go a long way most of the time."

Another difference was Wade getting “in the flow of what we are trying to get done," Alston said. "He made some plays with his feet. He did a good job. Foley was great. He blocked when we had to have a block. He ran the short yardage offense when we had to do that. The offensive line played one of their better games. Defensively Dorian made some plays. Oraedu did a good job of getting pressure on the quarterback. I thought we kept him from getting in too good of a rhythm. I was very proud of the whole group. The best thing about this victory is that we are region champs. Nothing can happen to change it. We have got some adjusting to do to cover up for these two guys that we have lost.”

Foley said, “It feels good to be region champs right now. When it was 17-0, it’s not over. We just had to turn it around. We have two more quarters. I want to make a play every time I get the ball. Our goal is the state championship—go all the way undefeated and be 13-0.”

Dunavant, a junior, was unfazed by the halftime deficit.

“We were down 14 to Ridgeway in the first 27 seconds and came back and scored the next 40 points (in a 40-22 win). It is just leadership. We listen to the older guys.”

Head coach since 1998, Alston said his team runs a multiple offense.

“It is best described as whatever we think will work that particular evening. Bradley Foley is our best running back. We have a couple of good receivers in Jalon Love and Maurice Hampton.”

Josh Gray, Smith and Oraedu have led the 3-4 defense. Oraedu has committed to play at Yale next year.

Regis has been offered an opportunity to play at Millsaps. This is his first year to miss games because of injury.

“Before, I take all the hits and get back on the field. More than anything I am trying to be a good leader. That is all I am focused on right now. That is all I can do. Bobby has done a good job coming in behind me. I have given him some tips encouraging him as well as encouraging everybody else. I am being someone they can smile at on the sidelines.”

Stewart said that he took it as a compliment when Alston said, “this is the best team they (Saints) have ever had. They are very talented. They don’t have any weak spots. They have got a senior class that has played together and the were excellent when they were nine graders.”

Stewart said, “I think we felt good coming in at the beginning of the year about being balanced and being able to run the football and being able to throw it. We have some good size up front. We are able to move and we can move people pretty well. I feel like our kids have embraced getting better every week.”

Robinson said, “You have got to fight through everything you do, no matter what. The defense is working hard. We are working hard through practice, watching film. We have been through these situations before. We know that they are not going to give up and we are not going to give up.”

Wade has one state championship already in 2016. He swam the 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly in February when the Owls won state in Nashville.

“To win state in football is something special that I would remember for a long time,” he said.

Fitzhenry called Wade’s play “Incredible. He had to play every play of the game, offense and defense. He is our leader even as a junior. Everyone is behind him. He is a great leader and a great player.”

Written by Bill Sorrell, special to the Express.