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Saints fall to Christian Brothers late

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By Bill Sorrell
Been there. Done that.
Christian Brothers’ nine-minute game-sealing fourth quarter drive against Briarcrest was nothing new.
“For us to take that last drive the way we did tells you our football team has done that several times,” said CBHS Head Coach Thomas McDaniel.
The Purple Wave needed long drives late in the game to secure victories over Grenada, Saint Paul’s of Covington, La., and White Station.
“We have needed those answers to keep the ball away from them, grind out the clock and win. We showed a lot of mental toughness,” said McDaniel.
CBHS quarterback Owen Brody said,”That last drive was huge for us, our momentum. We kept running the ball and the clock. We were picking up 3-4 yards a play gashing them up the middle. We wore them down.”
In the first Divsion 2 West AAA game this season, CBHS defeated Briarcrest 17-14 on Friday at Briarcrest. Ranked No. 11 in the Tennessee Super 25 High School football poll and No. 2 in the Associated Press D-2 AAA poll, the Brothers improved to 6-1 while Briarcrest fell to 5-2.
With 4.5 speed, running back Will Ruth ran 94 yards for a touchdown with 2:06 left in the first quarter to give CBHS its first score and a 7-7 tie after Ethan Fitschen’s extra point. Ruth rushed for a game-high 140 yards on 13 carries. “He has some explosive capabilities. He keeps showing up in big moments,” said McDaniel.
Ruth’s play “was awesome” said Brody.
“They had us pinned deep with a punt,” he said. “We have prepared in practice having our backs to the wall. Instead of the end zone and giving us more of an opportunity to open up the playbook, he took it to the house.”
Ruth said, “All I was thinking about while running the 94-yard TD is don’t get caught.”
CBHS running back Al Wooten II gained 107 yards on 14 carries and scored the game-winning touchdown on a 56-yard run with 11:30 left in the fourth quarter.
Briarcrest took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when quarterback Jackson Walker threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Neely. A 17-yard run by Jabari Small, who would lead the Saints with 112 rushing yards on 18 carries, set up the score. Noah Grant kicked the extra point.
The Brothers took a 10-7 lead when Fitschen kicked a 33-yard field goal with 7:24 left in the second quarter. A 19-yard pass from Brody to Antonio Lay got them to the Saints 46-yard line. It was Brody’s longest pass of the game and Lay’s longest catch. Brody completed 4 of 16 passes for 43 yards. Lay had 2 receptions for 30 yards.
With CBHS on the Briarcrest 49 the Saints’ Carrington Kelsey blocked a Chris Marable punt. Will Cummings recovered and scored on the last play of the third quarter and the Saints led 14-10.
“The guy blocking the outside, he said take the block on my guy and I’ll come from the outside,” said Kelsey, a junior linebacker/running back. “I saw his guy was trying to block him. I took off straight for the ball. I knew I wouldn’t hit the punter. I went straight for it and dove and look up and William is taking off to the end zone. That is a big momentum swing.”
Walker said, “That kept us in the game.”
It was Kelsey’s first blocked punt of his career.
“I’ve come close a few times,” he said.
It was Cummings’ first touchdown this season.
The lead was short-lived. Wooten’s touchdown run put the Brothers on top the rest of the game.
“Our depth played a factor,” said McDaniel. “Every time we had a moment of adversity we seemed to answer against a good football team. They have a great quarterback (Walker), good running back (Small) and big linemen. We expected a war and that is what we got.
“Will Ruth broke a big one early and Al Wooten made some big runs when it mattered. It was a great team win, a tough game, very gritty on both sides. In the third quarter we were starting to wear them down,” he added. “I think the fourth quarter showed our grit. I think our conditioning took over.”
Briarcrest Head Coach Brian Stewart said the Saints “couldn’t find a way to win.”
“I hate it,” he said. “Not being able to get them off the field, I was really confident if we get the football back we are going to win the game. You can’t give up long runs after you score. We block a punt and score, we have the momentum and we turn around and hand it right back to them.
“The season is moving along,” he added. “All you have to do is be good in November. We are going to get to November. It was good old-fashioned grit and grind and guts.”
At halftime Stewart told Walker, “Let’s go get them Brothers one more time.” (The Saints won in 2016).
After a 17-yard run by Small to put the Saints on the CBHS 41-yard line with seconds to play, Walker threw a Hail Mary.
“I was about to throw to one of our receivers on the left side of the end zone but I saw Gunner Campbell had a step on the safety so I chunked it about 50 yards and the defender made a good play of knocking it out of his hands,” said Walker.
It was not the first play the CBHS defense kept the Saints out of the end zone.
Wooten intercepted Walker at the 1-yard line with 3:03 left in the first half.
“That was huge,” said McDaniel.
Stewart said, “That was tough. The guy closed in on him.”
A University of Richmond commit, Walker completed 11 of 22 passes for 119 yards. His 28-yard touchdown pass to Neely was his longest of the game.
“The defensive back was playing off and I went for the split. Jake (Walker) threw a good ball and I just ran it,” said Neely, who had 3 receptions for 44 yards.
Kelsey said that Walker had a “great game passing and being aware of his pocket.”
“Besides that one pick, he was lights out,” he said.
Stewart said that the Saints count on Walker to make “some really tough reads.”
“He does a phenomenal job running this (spread) offense. This is his fourth year playing in this game,” he added.
CBHS had 325 yards of total offense with 282 on the ground. Briarcrest had 259 yards of total offense with 140 rushing.
The Brothers, who play a region game at St. Benedict at 7 p.m. Oct. 12, hang their hats on the running game.
“The offensive line did a tremendous job,” said McDaniel.
Jacob Likes, who has committed to Memphis, Mason Hall, Jack Cornell are leaders on the O-line.
They paved the way for Ruth and Wooten.
“Will Ruth did a phenomenal job. He has continued to get better every week. He had a big kickoff return two weeks ago. He busted a big touchdown last week. We are trying to bring (sophomore) Dylan Powell along,” said McDaniel, who was a safety at Tennesee Tech. “In the run game you have to be patient. We talk all the time you have to continue to hammer the ball and great things will happen and you have to trust what we’re doing and eventually they’ll pop.”
Small “can flat out run” said Stewart.
“He was so close to breaking away and getting out a couple of times. He had some of those this year,” he added.
The son of Eddie Small, who was a wide receiver at Ole Miss from 1990-94, Jabari Small runs the 40 in 4.58.
“He’s got a good bloodline. He has some siblings that are phenomenal athletes. He makes coaching really easy,” said Stewart. “He’s a hard-nosed runner.”
Small said that he learned a “good” work ethic early from his father.
Small runs behind an offensive line of Jack Jobe, Zach Yates, Manny Corless, Omari Thomas and Rodeny Newsom.
“We were able to move on them real well. Our front five has a lot of beef,” said Thomas. “Our pass game is there. Our defense showed up as well.”
Leading the Saints’ 3-3 stack defense are Christian Green, Robbie Cummings, Newsom, Thomas, Carson Brewer. Neely, Kelsey, Micahel Dallas, Small, Landon Wright, Jack Kruse, Alex Batson, Matt Taylor, Will Cummings, Jay Austin.
“Rodney Newsom and our whole offensive line stood out. I thought we drove the ball well, we just couldn’t finish drives like we needed to,” Walker said.
Marion Hampton had 5 rushes for 16 yards, Wyatt Speed 5 for 15, Kelsey 5 for 12.
Thomas batted down a pass in the third quarter.
“I saw the quarterback lined up. I was able to get my hands on the pass,” said Thomas (6-5, 295).
Kelsey said, “I thought we handled their formations with the overloads to one side. That is a heck of an accomplishment against a team like that. Willliam Cummings, Carson, Alex, Matt, Big O (Thomas), Robbie, Christian are in there blowing up the A-gap for us.”
CBHS has had to replace a ton of starters, including nine on defense, from last year.
McDaniel said that players are gaining experience and counting on cornerstones Likes, Bill Norton, who has committed to Georgia, Christian James, who has committed to Vanderbilt, Brody, Raymond Fracchia.
“They have done a great job for us so far. We have to focus on Brothers football,” McDaniel said. “Ball security, tackling and the kicking game, we have some things to clean up. Our effort, our toughness is there.”
Brody said, “One thing I learned about our team, I already knew this but it stood out to me even more this week, is that we stayed together. We trusted in ourselves and our coaches. No one was pointing fingers at each other or yelling at each other for mistakes.”
One of the game’s turning points, along with Ruth’s touchdown run, was in the first quarter when Briarcrest was on the CBHS 35 but was stopped one a fourth and two.
Big plays included a 14-yard pass from Walker to Neely who made a leaping catch in the first quarter; a 27-yard pass from Walker to Peyton Moore in the second quarter. Moore had a team-high 4 catches for 50 yards. Small had a 16-yard run in the second quarter.
Brody threw an 11-yard pass to Lay in the third quarter. Ruth returned a kickoff 43 yards to the CBHS 44. On the next play Wooten scored. CBHS’ defense kept the Saints from converting thrid downs. The Saints made 3 of 11 (27 per cent). The Brothers made 6 of 12.
“Third down has been our weakness. We have to keep converting and working on those,” said Kelsey.
Keys to victory for CBHS were execution, encouragement and the last drive. said Ruth.
“They were a solid team with some very good athletes. The last drive showed that their defense couldn’t handle the run game anymore, so we broke one on the first play.”
Hall, an offensive right guard, wanted to pave the way for Wooten and Ruth becuse he thought he had an advantage blocking.
When McDaniel called a play to the other direction, Hall begged Brody to change it. He did not. During a timeout Hall begged McDaniel to change it.
“That was the funniest part of the night telling the coach they needed to run behind him,” said Brody.
Defensively Andrew Martin led CBHS, which is 4-3, with 11 tackles (8 of those assists), Wesley Pope 5 total tackles, Gene Spiotta 8, Wooten 5, Norton 6 plus a sack, James 6, Fracchia 3. Norton and Wooten each had a tackle for lost yardage.
Briarcrest’s leading tacklers were Kelsey with 6, Wright 6, Brewer 5, Green 4, Thomas 3, Will Cumminbgs 3, Robbie Cummings 3, Taylor 3.
The Saints, who play at MUS at 7 p.m. Oct. 12, have more college scholarship offers than any team in school history said Stewart. Walker said his choice on Richmond was a “no brainer.”
“I love the coaches, the education, everything about it.”
The Saints had a good game plan, Kelsey said.
“There is always something to work on. We can execute on defense. We missed some tackles. Defensively we had a couple of coverages that we didn’t have locked down. We have a lot of energy behind the scenes. That is one of the best parts of our team.”
Kelsey has one of the team’s highest grade points, with a weighted 5-plus. He made a 33 on his ACT. A member of Grace Evangelical Church, he plays with his favorite Bible verse, Colossians 3:17 in mind, “And whatever you do, whether in owrd or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
The verse hangs on his wall. “God gives you the power, strength and ability to play a good game. That is a constant reminder we all need,” said Kelsey.
Stewart called it unfortunate that someone had to lose. “We’ll be on the other end at some point and get to celebrate. It’s hard to be perfect on defense. It’s hard to be perfect on offense. We have got to find a way to win a game late. Nobody is to blame tonight. Our kids played their hearts out. I’m proud of them.”
Small said, “We have to be better next week. We have a lot of talent. We have a lot of D-1 players here.”
McDaniel said, “The best football is ahead of us.”

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