By Bill Sorrell
Briarcrest quarterback Jackson Walker celebrated his 16th birthday on Aug. 26 in the sweetest way possible, beating bitter rival St. George’s 37-14 in Collierville.
“I was hoping for one (a win as a birthday present),” said Walker as he fielded happy birthdays from happy Briarcrest fans. “I couldn’t appreciate it until after we won. It feels real good. I want to beat St. George’s every year.”
Avenging a loss last year in the Battle of The Levee, the Saints snapped the defending Div. 2-A state champions’ 12-game winning streak with a career-high three touchdowns by senior Jake Powers, 138 yards rushing from Charles Elliott and a front-wall defense that held Arkansas commit and Mr. Football Chase Hayden to 17 yards rushing.
“It feels good to win a rivalry game. Last year, we took a tough one at our place and those kids haven’t forgotten about it. They have had this one marked for a long time,” said Briarcrest coach Brian Stewart. “St. George’s is a great team. It has so many weapons and so much talent. I am proud of our defense and how they played and held them in check tonight.”
Moving from wide receiver to the Wildcat formation, Powers scored touchdowns on runs of 3, 1 and 8 yards.
“They put in the formation and I punched it in from about the 1 every time. It wasn’t me. It was my offensive line. I couldn’t do it without them,” said Powers, who has a scholarship offer from Morehead State.
Powers, who is 6-1 and 195 pounds, had a breath-taking play. In the third quarter he jumped to the stars to catch a pass from Walker at the Gryphons’ 48-yard line. He cartwheeled as a St. Georges tackler knocked his legs out from under him.
“It was crazy. I went up and got it and the guy took out my legs. I was lucky not to land on my neck. I got up and got the first down. It was a big play,” said Powers.
That was followed by another first down when he caught a 14-yard pass from Walker. Elliott then raced 18 yards to the 16, then to the 10 before Walker ran nine yards to the 1. Powers scored his second TD from the 1 with 8:51 left in the third. Noah Grant kicked it to a 21-7 lead.
“Powers made some great catches,” said Stewart. “Then he gets in the Wildcat position. We have got a power game that we get behind and here we come, power with Powers.”
Improving to 2-0, the Saints who opened with a 43-21 victory over ECS, also got fire power from Elliott and Tyler Badie. Elliott’s 139 yards came on 20 carries, including his longest gainer, a 37-yard touchdown with 26 seconds left in the first quarter. That tied the game. Badie rushed for 84 yards on five carries, including a 40-yard run. He caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Walker with 3:36 left in the third quarter for a 27-7 lead.
“Charles Elliott and Tyler Badie had a good night. We didn’t throw the football like we normally do,” said Stewart. “On a night like this it is good to be able to line up and run the football.”
Walker completed 9-of-14 passes for 86 yards. The Saints had 424 yards offense with 338 yards on the ground.
Powers rushed for 45 yards, Cameron Wright 30, D.J. Robinson 16 and Carrington Kelsey 11.
“They have probably the best defensive backs we will play all year so we were going to pound it and see what happened,” said Walker. “We have the best running backs on the levee. We have the best offensive line of anyone. It is just a start. We are big and we are young. Our right side is experienced. A few offensive linemen were playing their first game and they did a great job.”
It was the Saints’ defensive players “flying to the ball and playing to our assignments,” said Powers that provided the “big victory. We have been playing against these St. George’s guys since I was little and this one of the games I wanted real bad. They have crazy, crazy good players. We just played as a team and shut them down.”
The Saints’ goal was to make Hayden run “east and west,” not allowing “downhill” running lanes.
“This what you try to do to teams that are so good like that. You have got a front wall with three levels. We try to have a wall up front, then linebackers, secondary, people who run to the football. When you have a guy like that (Hayden), run sideline-to-sideline, you have a shot to make a tackle,” said Stewart.
In the Gryphons’ season-opening 49-28 victory over Trinity Christian Academy, Hayden rushed for 246 yards and scored four touchdowns.
“They had some big guys up front that were hard for us to move,” said Carter. “Chase can do a lot of things but without getting some push up front, it was hard for him to gain yardage. Our offensive line is going to learn from it and they will be better next week. They faced some really good defensive lineman and linebackers.”
Briarcrest outside linebackers Christian Satterfield and Chase Martin stood out said Powers. “They flew to the ball every time and tackled Chase (Hayden). It was impressive. Three of us were there every time he tried to cut back. Someone was right there in his face.”
St. George’s wide receiver Jimbo Cayce, who had an 18-yard catch, said the Saints’ defensive line is “a lot bigger than us. We have a young defensive line, mainly freshmen and sophomores.”
Expectations are high for the Gryphons.
“We a target on our backs,” said quarterback Ben Glass.
Cayce said, “It is a lot to live up to. We had all seniors and they graduated. Every one is expecting us to do well based off last year. It is hard to back that up.
Defensively we need to follow the ball everywhere. We can’t give up plays. We had a lot of missed tackles. We were not making plays when we need to.Our goals are to go undefeated, forget this game and win the rest.”
Photo by Kevin Lewter
Briarcrest’s Jake Powers tries to shake the tackle of St. George’s Shon Wooten Friday night on the road. Powers finished the game with three touchdowns. The Saints won 37-14 and are now 2-0 on the season.
Said Carter, “One thing you can always learn more from losses. They understand the work they have in front of them and for the guys on the offensive line, that is the first time they have experienced a big-time Friday night football game. They will get the scare out of the way and move on and get better.
“The good thing, our staff and our kids don’t get too high. We don’t get too low. They understand that the purpose of these games is to learn and to grow.
Briarcrest did a great job of scheming and getting their guys to execute the game plan. We put our defense in a bad spot tonight. It was our offense. We should have done better. We had one of those nights. Hopefully it doesn’t happen again this season.”
With 129 yards total offense, the Gryphons rushed for 46 yards with Glass gaining 16 yards. Glass, who has committed to play at the Naval Academy, completed 7-of-14 passes for 96 yards including a 20-yard touchdown pass to Dawson Smith with 12 seconds left in the game.
St. George’s provided the most electrifying play of the game. Shon Wooten took the opening kickoff and raced 95 yards for a touchdown and 14 seconds into the game, the Gryphons led 7-0. Austin Wall kicked the PAT.
“Shon Wooten had a great game,” said St. George’s coach David Carter. “Noah Pope had a great game.”
A linebacker, Pope had a game-high 12 tackles and a sack of eight yards. Met Proctor had eight tackles and a 4-yard sack. Nick Bourdeau made eight tackles, Timber King six and Justin Bray five.
D.J. Robinson led Briarcrest with seven tackles. Martin had a 13-yard sack among his four tackles which totaled 19 yards in tackles for loss. Martin and Powers each had an interception.
“After every game, I feel like I can do better. I feel like I rushed the passer pretty well and got after it on defense. Our defense needs to rise to the ball more and I can wrap up better. We are a young team but we have heart. They caught us at the right time. I expected it to be a lot more competitive game,” said Pope.
The first time Hayden ran the ball he gained four yards with 3:55 left in the first quarter at the Briarcrest 36. Akron commit Will Barto then stopped Glass. Barto had 70 tackles in 2015.
On Briarcrest’s possession, the Saints drove 80 yards behind an 18-yard run by Elliott and a 14-yard run by Badie. Elliott later ran 37 yards for the touchdown.
An interception by Martin put the Saints on St. George’s 34-yard line. Powers had a 16-yard run to the 11 and later scored on a 1-yard run. Grant made it 14-7.
During a Gryphons drive in the second quarter, Corey Jones, who is being recruited by NCAA Division-1 schools, had one of the game’s best catches, a 17-yard reception from Glass that went to the Briarcrest 45.
Jones led receivers with 50 yards on four carries.
Power then intercepted Glass, returning the ball to the 35.
With the Saints’ leading 21-7 after Powers’ second touchdown, they scored with a 66-yard drive. Badie increased the lead to 27-7 on his 35-yard touchdown reception from Walker.
Powers capped a 57-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown with 5:46 left in the game for a 34-7 lead. Grant then hit a 32-yard field goal to put the Saints ahead 37-7 with 2:53 left.
Runs by Hayden and Glass set up the Gryphons’ second touchdown, the 20-yarder to Smith with 12 seconds left. Jack Apple kicked the extra point.
Smith finished the game with 28 yards receiving on two receptions. Glass averaged 50.5 yards on his four punts.
Walker averaged 35.5 yards on two punts.
J.R. Upton had a blocked punt for St. George’s.
The Saints have a lot of “dynamic players” said Stewart, mentioning linemen Griffin Hawkins and Will Gentry, linebacker Barto, cornerback Randall Booker, defensive backs Dayton Leach, Bradley Ellis, Parker Sherrill.
“We can throw it and we can run it,” said Stewart, in his third season. “We have got a senior class that has started 24 games. They have been in the fire. They have been in the system for two years. They believe in me and they believe in one another. We have got a lot of good chemistry.
“The on shining thing about our team is freshman left tackle Omari Thomas. He is unbelievable. He really showed out last week and hopefully he will have another great night.”
Stewart wants his players to have a “killer instinct. I want to see them finish games, finish drives and that is something they did tonight and I am proud of that. We have got to keep doing that.”
In his fourth year as head coach, Carter said that his team has some “unsung” heroes in players such as Proctor (wide receiver/defensive back) and King (linebacker/running back).
Glass said that he committed to Navy, where he will serve five years after graduating, because of the opportunity. “It has a very good football program. I also fit very well in their offense.”
He expects the Gryphons to improve. “We just have to keep working and getting better. We will be good.”
Pope will play outside linebacker at Yale. He visited the school over the summer and said that he has bonded with players and coaches.
“I had a great experience. It’s a great school. Every one knows me and there is great support. I feel like it is where I need to be,” said Pope, who has a 3.6 grade-point average and plans to major in economics or political science.
“God has really blessed me and put me in a really great situation. He has a plan for me.”
He has been influenced by his late grandmother Jackie Carton.
“A couple of years ago she died of cancer. She was a big part of my life. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her,” he said.
Reading his Bible, the “verse of the day” on the day that his grandmother died was Romans 8:18, “I consider our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
“I feel like it fit her perfectly. It talks about how God has something better for you through the suffering that you endure. Football-wise, I think about it all the time because I am working all the time in the games, in practice,” said Pope.
When Pope was a freshman his goal was to win three state championships.
“We have one. The goal the rest of the season is to win state.”
Powers was asked what he learned about his team on Friday.
“We are good,” he said. “I can’t wait for the rest of the season.”