Injuries to the Briarwood Buccaneers' key players proved too much to overcome, as the Bucs' hopes of making it to the playoffs were foiled in a 24-12 season-ending loss to Brentwood last Friday night in Sandersville.
"Our 6-3-1 season record doesn't indicate how very talented our team was," Coach Jimmy Barnett said. "Week in and week out, we were facing very tough competition. Most everyone we played is in the playoffs."
Despite the tough schedule, it was injuries that took the greatest toll on the Bucs as the season progressed.
Senior David Russell, the team's three-year starter at quarterback and a vital part of the defense, went down early in the first game of the season, but sophomore Chase Walker rose to the occasion and helped the Bucs to a 14-14 tie against a strong Edmund Burke Academy team in Waynesboro.
The Bucs were at their strongest in mid-season when, on Oct. 6 in Milledgeville, they "shocked" AAA John Milledge with a 14-6 win. The following week the Bucs scored another big win as they traveled deep into south Georgia for a 36-20 win over perennial contender Tiftarea Academy in Chula.
The Bucs paid a heavy price for those wins. In the John Milledge game, Jonathan Gay, one of the team's leading tacklers, went down with a torn ACL and was lost for the season. In the Tiftarea game, senior Joseph Batrous, another team leader and three-year starter for the Bucs, went down with a leg injury, missed two games and was playing at about 70 percent when the season ended, according to Coach Barnett.
The Bucs opened their region schedule without the services of Gay and Batrous, but came up with a decisive 29-14 win over Westminster Christian; however, in that game the Bucs lost junior starter Hughlon Mays, a pass receiver and defender, for the season.
The Bucs traveled to Eatonton on Oct. 27 to face region rival without the play of the injured Jonathan Gay, Batrous and Mays. Additionally, the Bucs' leading ground gainer, senior Jacob Gay, was hospitalized with a staph infection, leaving the Bucs with only Russell left in the starting backfield. With the running game decimated by the loss of back Batrous and Gay, the steady rain that fell most of Friday and throughout the first half neutralized the passing game. The Bucs suffered their first region loss and their worst loss of the season, 35-0, to Gatewood. On top of the loss of the game, the Bucs lost Russell to an ankle injury.
With Jacob Gay and Batrous back in the game, the Bucs pulled out a 14-7 region win over Pinecrest Academy, and they managed that win without Russell.
The Bucs traveled to Brentwood last Friday night for their final region game and their only hope for a spot in the playoffs.
A win over Brentwood would have put the Bucs in a three-way tie for the region championship and a chance at making the playoffs in a shoot-out for the region title.
But, it was not to be.
Brentwood quickly built a 14-0 lead by the early part of the second quarter and Briarwood couldn't recover.
The Bucs first score came after a combination of running and passing. Gay scored on a dive play up the middle to cut the Eagles lead to 14-6 with 7:17 left in the second half.
The second Briarwood score came as time ticked away in the first half. The Bucs got the ball back with 56 seconds left in the second quarter, and scored on a short pass from o Joesbury with two ticks left.
Brentwood proceeded to dominate the seond half, using their quick-strike passing game to score, and their stifiling defense to stop the Bucs.
Offensively, Russell passed for 96 yards and one touchdown. Joesbury caught five passes for 77 yards and one TD. Gay gained 101 yards on 19 carries.
Defensively, junior John Spivey led with 11 solo tackles and three assists. Senior nose guard Chase Wilson, who, in his final game for the Bucs chalked up 10 solo tackles, followed him closely and three assists. Senior Kyle Ewest had seven solos and one assist, while senior Gay had six solos and one assist. Russell had six solos and two assists. Junior Andrew Johnson is credited with five solos and five assists.
Briarwood 12, Brentwood 24
Star of the game: Davis Griffin caught a key pass in the second quarter on the two yard line that led to Briarwood's second touchdown of the game. He caught this pass one-handed after suffering an injury to the opposite hand.
Play of the game: The Briarwood defense held the Brentwood Eagle offense on two goal line stands during the game to keep the score close.
Up next: With this loss, the Briarwood Buccaneers have been eliminated from post-season play. They finish the season with a 6-3-1 overall mark.