A look ahead to AHSAA 5A semifinals
No. 3 Briarwood Christian at No. 2 Hartselle
Series: Briarwood leads 1-0
Last Meeting: Briarwood won 24-21 (OT) in 2010
Stadium: J.P. Cain Stadium
Game Time: Friday at 7 p.m.
Radio: 99.9 FM
Internet broadcast: http://www.hartselleqbclub.com
Tickets: $7 general admission
at Athens – W, 23-0
Brewer – W, 54-0
at Hayden – W, 57-0
Walker – W, 17-3
Decatur (6A) – W, 28-21
West Point – W, 44-10
Curry – W, 55-7
at Mortimer Jordan – W, 49-13
at Cullman – W, 20-13
Austin (6A) – W, 42-14
Boaz – W, 52-13
at Pinson Valley – W, 22-21
at Center Point – W, 17-7
Briarwood Christian Schedule
at Eagles Landing Christian (Ga.) – W, 21-18
at Moody – W, 39-14
Center Point, W, 28-7
at Chelsea, W, 45-37
at Vestavia Hills (6A), L, 14-35
Talladega – W, 48-0
Pinson Valley – W, 44-10
at Shelby County – W, 48-0
at Sylacauga – W, 42-21
at Anniston (4A) – W, 34-7
Athens – W, 47-20
Fort Payne – W, 24-14
Muscle Shoals – W, 19-0
Common opponents are in bold.
Appearances: Hartselle 29, Briarwood Christian 24
Overall record: Hartselle 29-28, Briarwood Christian 45-18
Last time in semifinals: Both met each other in the 2010 semifinals. Briarwood won 24-21 in overtime
Record in semifinals: Hartselle 2-3, Briarwood 5-3
Hartselle Team Statistics
Scoring: 480, 36.9 per game
Points Allowed: 122, 9.4 per game
Opponents Record: 71-72
Home Record: 6-0
Road Record: 7-0
Briarwood Team Statistics
Scoring: 456, 35.1 per game
Points Allowed: 210, 16.2 per game
Opponents Record: 80-57
Home Record: 6-1
Road Record: 6-0
Tigers looking for payback
Last year, the Tigers were dealt a tough blow in the state semifinals against Briarwood Christian.
The two teams played a tight game, in which the biggest lead was eight points. Hartselle’s Will Lang connected with Blake Slayton on a 52-yard touchdown to tie the game at 21-21 and send it to overtime.
Briarwood forced a turnover on its overtime possession and kicked a 19-yard field goal to win the game.
The Tigers have been looking to get a rematch with the Lions ever since that loss. Expect the Tigers to use that as extra motivation to get ready for the game.
Briarwood’s big senior class pays off with deep run
Briarwood Christian returned almost everyone from its state championship game run from a year ago.
The Lions have about 40 seniors and had 16 returning starters at the outset of the season. Even with that, the Lions felt like they should have beaten Spanish Fort in the state championship game last year.
However, Spanish Fort, led by Auburn’s Reese Dismukes, beat Briarwood Christian 14-0 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Record-setting year continues for Hartselle
Hartselle has now set a couple of records this season.
Last week’s win gave Hartselle its first 13-win season in school history. That also is Hartselle’s longest winning streak in school history.
The Tigers’ 17 points against Center Point made its season point total 480, which is now the most combined points ever scored by Hartselle during a season.
This is also the second consecutive year Hartselle has been to the state semifinals. The last time the Tigers had consecutive appearances in the state semifinals was 1980-1982 when Hartselle made three straight trips.
Tigers toughen up in the red-zone on defense
Center Point made two trips inside the Tiger red zone in the first half, but the Tiger defense turned the Eagles away both times to keep the game at a 0-0 tie.
That was the pivotal moment in the game because of what ensued, according to Hartselle head coach Bob Godsey. Those stops then sparked the Tigers to mount a 91-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead moments before halftime.
“That touchdown was huge,” Godsey said. “To take the ball from deep in our own territory, drive the length of the field and score a touchdown, that meant a lot to our team.”
Tigers finally back at home
Hartselle, despite being ranked No. 2, has only played one home game this postseason due to its spot in the bracket.
In the past couple of years, region champions were guaranteed to host the first rounds of the playoffs, but this year, AHSAA went back to its old bracket format, which doesn’t allow for a team to play a region opponent until the third round.
All of that early traveling allowed Hartselle to host the semifinals because Briarwood has played all three of its postseason games at home.
Aldridge, Thompson hook up for key play again
Deacon Aldridge and Jeston Thompson connected on a 34-yard pass that put Hartselle in position to hit a 19-yard game-winning field goal against Pinson Valley.
The two were at it again just down the road in Center Point. On third-and-26, Aldridge floated another pass up for Thompson, who came up with it right at the first down marker.
That play set up a 29-yard field goal to give Hartselle a 17-7 lead with under a minute left in the game.
While Thompson made the big clutch play, Aldridge also got good production out of other receivers. Preston Adams made a 22-yard reception to set up Hartselle’s first touchdown. The Eagles had trouble defending Slayton, racking up 59 yards on three catches.
Impressive defensive performances in quarterfinals
Briarwood Christian and Hartselle both put up impressive defensive performances en route to their semifinal appearances.
Hartselle held Center Point to just 114 yards on offense, 43 of which came on one pass for a touchdown.
The Lions were just as effective holding Muscle Shoals to 149 yards. Briarwood Christian, which only had 262 yards itself, took advantage of turnovers and kicking game miscues to win 19-0.
For the season, Hartselle is allowing 9.4 points per game, which includes giving up 21 to Decatur and Pinson Valley. Briarwood is allowing 16.2 points per game, which includes giving up 35 to 6A Vestavia Hills and 37 to Chelsea.
What to expect
Hartselle and Briarwood Christian played a classic a season ago and fans should expect another tight game.
There are two great defenses in this game, with a slight edge going to Hartselle. Briarwood probably has a slight edge on the offensive side of the ball. The kicking game is about even.
The difference in this game will come down to turnovers. One area to watch this is with Hartselle’s center-to-quarterback exchange. The Tigers have had a number of low snaps over the last two weeks, possibly affected by the cold weather. This could either lead to fumbles or negative plays.
Both teams will likely struggle to get to 300 total yards, but the one who can avoid giving up the big play on defense and can take advantage of their opportunities will win this game.