The turning point for the epic turnaround for the 2017 Brighton Cardinal Football team all depends on who you ask.
Some of the Cardinal coaches point to the Covington loss, while some might note that the 52-46 win over Kirby alluded to great things to come.
For the players, the answers vary — from erasing the naysayers around the campus to the return of key players from injury, or the 69-50 regular-season victory over Southwind.
No matter the answer, it is clear the 2017 Cardinals made a transformation that made school history with Brighton reaching the State Semifinals for the first time.
With that achievement the 2017 Brighton Cardinals have earned Journal West 10 Media’s “Last Team Standing” Award.
“We were sort of in shock there for a minute,” Brighton Head Coach Robin Jacobs said of the 1-3 start. “We lost a couple of players there on offense. Our defense was playing pretty good. We just hit a low there for a minute. We left the Memphis Central scrimmage there (in the preseason) feeling pretty good about ourselves. Maybe we were feeling too good about ourselves.
“Then we got brought back down to earth,” he continued. “About game four, it was the fourth quarter against Kirby and our defense actually played pretty good. Our offense just kept moving and we sort of hit from there.”
Jacobs said two things had to be consistent in order to have a turning point and turnaround – belief in Brighton football and constant hard work.
“In football you have to keep working at what you do,” he said. “You can’t listen to the outside things that influence people. You have to try to be leader and you have to show them they have to keep working everyday. They did great and won eight out of nine at the end. It was a really good run that fell just a little bit short.”
Although the coaches wanted the players to remain focused on the mission in front of them, seniors like Jordan Johns acknowledged the negative comments made their mark.
“We didn’t listen to everyone,” he said. “Everybody in the school was talking about our defense. ‘The offense, the offense, the offense, they’re scoring. But defense can’t do anything.’ We just put that in the back of our heads and didn’t worry about any of that when we got out there on the field. We could trust each other. We’ve been playing together since the sixth grade. We can trust to know everybody will be where they need to be at and make the right plays on the field.”
While Johns developed into a menace on the defensive line, his fellow senior DeRobert Currie was terrorizing opposing receivers from his cornerback position. Currie made several big plays throughout the season, including making an interception that locked up the 21-10 win over Munford, earning Brighton the Region 8-5A title.
“I was feeling pretty good about the W we’ve just got,” Currie recalled. “We did have a rough start at the beginning of the season. As we progressed through the season, we were making better judgement calls and all that stuff. We were just pretty much improving mentally and physically throughout the season. I thank the Lord for that and that’s why we made it.”
Also helping Brighton make it to the No. 1 seed in the upcoming playoffs was a 2-0 win for Southwind over Ridgeway that same night.
Brighton hosted Dyer County in the first round and used the power on the defensive line of scrimmage featuring Johns, Cameron Johns and Josh Dupuis to control the Choctaw attack.
Then the Cardinal offensive line of DJ Barker, Enrique Toliver, Tyler Carmack, Zach Dickinson and Alex Belue paved a way for all-star running back Lance West to rush for multiple scores, leading to a 69-32 win.
“A lot of hard work and team work,” Belue said of the O-line’s turnaround. “We just came together as a whole to clear the way for Lance. We decided in order to be successful we had to give Malik time.
“Just having our quarterback not getting hit and not making mistakes like that,” he added. “We love opening up big holes. That does put a smile on your face.”
The offensive line made it possible for senior quarterback Malik Jackson to run the ball when needed or hit open receivers like Aaron Alston.
West and Alston racked up solid numbers all season. West tallied 3,247 yards and 36 touchdowns. He rushed for 2,003 yards and 29 TDs. West added 691 yards receiving with 6 touchdowns. Throw in a kick return score as well. Alston tallied 1,147 yards through the air with 13 scores after missing 3 games.
Alston and West didn’t miss the Southwind Second Round game. That contest appeared to be the end of the road for the Cardinals trailing 34-7 at halftime.
“One of the big turning points I remember the most when we were playing Southwind and we were down 30 points,” Dupuis said. “We came back. We went in that locker room at halftime and I remember we went in there and none of the coaches were yelling. None of us were talking. We just sat there and said, ‘If we don’t step up and start playing now, this is it.’ We all looked at each other and came out after halftime, we came back and scored about 30 unanswered points.”
Big play after big play in front of the home crowd allowed the Cardinals to prevail 49-48 over Southwind and advance to take on Henry County.
In 2016 the Patriots eliminated the Cardinals in a First Round thriller in Brighton 41-40. The rematch would take place in Paris.
Brighton used key plays on defense, big scores like a Tyler Burnett over-the-shoulder TD grab and timely special teams plays to win 34-31 at Henry County.
The upset over the Patriots set up a match up for Brighton at the unbeaten Beech Buccaneers. The Semifinal contest went the way of Beech 21-3 behind a powerful Buccaneer running attack.
Brighton’s 27 seniors left the field that night disappointed as members of the best team in school history.
“A lot of the underclassmen want to tie what we did or go to State,” Dupuis said. “We motivated them a lot to do better than what we did. To work a little bit harder than what we did because clearly it was that one game clearly we didn’t work as hard as we should have. We’re trying to push it in their heads they have to work harder than we did.”
Johns said the pieces remain at Brighton to establish a periennial powerhouse.
“It feels great knowing we’ve passed this torch on to a lot of young talent,” he said.
Currie added all it will take to continue the winning ways at Brighton are the two basics of belief and hard work.
“I know they can work hard and achieve it because they have a lot of potential in them,” he said. “They have to do their best to strive to get to where we are and further than we got.”
Jacobs said before the coaching staff turns their attention fully to 2018 and the underclassmen, he wants to salute the young men who will be graduating in May and left their mark on Cardinal Football.
“You take the best team out there,” he said. “You try to get better with them. Henry County was that for us. They beat us the year before by 3 yards. I don’t know if we got over the hump but they are what you measure yourself by. And we got three more (points) than they did.
“Hopefully we’ll going to be the one everyone is measured by,” Jacobs concluded. “Everything is because of these guys. They’re talking about them. It’s all about them.”
The 2017 Brighton Cardinals are: Aaron Alston, Malik Jackson, R.J. Piggie, Michael Armour, Christian Holly, DeRobert Currie, Jackson Fields, Keionte Newson, Caleb Chambers, James Carson, Triston Gourley, Nick Johnson, Ethan Starnes, Tyler Burnett, Tyrique Thompson, Nick Chamberlain, Undreaus Rivers, Aiden Grimes, Solomon Davis, Hunter Twisdale, Lance West, Andrew Brooks, Demetrius Frisson, Sam Dunlap, Joe Williamson, Josh Dupuis, Chris Miller, Luke Latimer, Bailey Howard, Zach Sartin, A.J. Harris, Drew Twisdale, Blake Taylor, Cameron Newman, Will Hefner, Jack Dancy, Aaron Alston, Dallas Dooley, Will Hammer, Christian Jones, Kagen Riley, T.J. Teamer, Jordan Johns, D.J. Barker, Conner Janes, Ayden Hall, Zach Dickinson, Austyn Knapp, Spencer Cartwright, Cameron Gregor, Ian McClain, Ben Roberts, Jonathan Maley, Imari Allen, Maximus Moses, Tyler Carmack, Dalton Williams, Russell Webb, Josh McFarland, Gary John, Alex Belue, Jackson Kelly, Enrique Toliver, Noah Norris, Logan Murphy, Thomas Murphy, Cameron Gregor, Carter Easley, Drew South, Cameron John, Jacob Hoy, John Allen and Miller Countess.