Coach Jimmy Barnett's Briarwood Buccaneers knew their key region game with the Pinecrest Paladians would be a crucial factor in the race for the GISA Region 1-AA Championship.
With all the injuries the Bucs have suffered this year, and barring no more injuries over the next two weeks, the entire Briarwood squad knew that the road to the title would be a challenge.
The Buccaneers came out last Friday night in their annual homecoming contest and defeated Pinecrest Academy 14-7 to improve their overall record to 6-2-1 and their region mark to 2-1. With the win, this Friday night's game against the Brentwood Eagles in Sandersville will be the battle to see who will win the title.
"Last Friday night's win was a real good effort from everyone on our part," Coach Barnett said. "We probably played the best overall game from all the different areas that we have seen all year."
At the moment, three teams are in the chase for the region championship. Brentwood is in the driver's seat with a 5-4 overall record and an undefeated 3-0 region standing. Briarwood and Gatewood are currently tied for second place with identical 2-1 region marks. However, Gatewood has the upper hand over Briarwood, since the Gators defeated the Buccaneers a couple of weeks ago.
If Briarwood beats Brentwood Friday night, it will create a three-way tie atop the region. The region championship would then be decided at a playoff between the three teams at 5:30 p.m. Monday at John Milledge Academy in Milledgeville.
Briarwood's win over Pinecrest did not come without another injury. Senior quarterback and linebacker David Russell suffered a badly sprained ankle in the second quarter and had to leave the game.
"We immediately put ice on his ankle to freeze it to prevent swelling and placed him on crutches for the remainder of the night," Coach Barnett said. "He has been going through physical therapy this week, and it's a 90 percent chance that he will play against Brentwood."
Russell's injury put the ball in the hands of sophomore quarterback Chase Walker.
"We didn't hold back on the play calling, because we had faith in him and knew he could do the job," Coach Barnett said. "It's tough for a player to get going at a moment's notice when you have been standing around on the sidelines in the dead cold. But Chase got out there, got hot, and got the job done."
The Bucs also benefited from the return of senior running back Jacob Gay, who was injured earlier in the season.
"Jacob made some huge plays on both offense and defense for us, and it was great to have him back in the lineup," Coach Barnett said.
Coach Barnett also credited sophomore punter and running back Cane Gilmer and senior Kyle Ewest with outstanding play.
Defensively, a host of Buccaneers stepped up to fill injured defensive players and hold Pinecrest to just seven points. Coach Barnett singled out Chase Wilson, Davis Griffin, Eric Johnson and John Spivey.
The Buccaneers' first score of the game came on the first play of the second quarter on the ninth play of a drive that started on the Pinecrest 39 yard line. With the ball on the Paladian 1 yard line, Russell called his own number from the quarterback slot and bulled his way into the end zone for a touchdown. A mishandled snap caused a missed conversion, thus the Buccaneers led 6-0 at the 11:55 mark of the second quarter.
The Paladians quickly struck right back to take the lead on their ensuing drive following the kickoff. Pinecrest started its scoring drive on its own 46 yard line, and just five plays later, the Paladians tied the score on a 43 yard touchdown run. The PAT was good, making the score 7-6.
With about 3:00 left in the first half, the Buccaneers reclaimed the lead on a 13 play drive that started on the Briarwood 36 yard line. Following several great runs from Jacob Gay, Gilmer, Walker and Chris Gerlach, combined with a couple of splendid passes from Walker to Gerlach and Gilmer, Gay capped this drive and put the Buccaneers on top with a 5 yard touchdown run. A pass from Russell to Dave Joesbury for the two point conversion made the score 14-7.
The second half was a defensive struggle, as the score remained 14-7 in Briarwood's favor when the final whistle blew to end the game.
The Bucs now turn their attention to Coach Bert Brown's Brentwood Eagles - a team built on the wing-T offense.
"(Coach Brown) has a system that's been in operation for seven or so years," Coach Barnett said. "His wing-T offense and his good feeder program are very similar to what Coach Luther Welsh has at Thomson High School. It's going to be tough to stop the wing-T."
He said the Bucs have to be wary of Brentwood's speed.
"The wing-T is probably the offense that is hardest to stop," Coach Barnett said. "There are no weaknesses on Coach Brown's team, and he runs a very sound ship."
Briarwood 14, Pinecrest 8
Star of the Game: Sophomore quarterback Chase Walker came on for the injured David Russell to lead the Buccaneers to the go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter.
Play of the Game: The duo of Walker and Chris Gerlach teamed up on a 30-yard pass that placed the ball on the 19 yard line during Briarwood's go-ahead scoring drive in the second quarter.
Up next: The Buccaneers will travel to Sandersville to play the Brentwood Academy Eagles.