Briarwood, Class 5A’s third-ranked team, rolled to a 27-0 lead at halftime and held serve during an even second half en route to a 34-7 victory in the regular-season finale for both teams at Lott-Mosby Stadium.
Anniston (6-4), unranked but champions of 4A, Region 6, will play host to Cherokee County in next week’s opening round of the playoffs. Bulldogs coach Eddie Bullock said they must approach the playoffs like they approached the second half against Briarwood.
“I went in (at halftime) and told the guys and told them, it’s not so much what they’re doing to us,” Bullock said. “It’s what we’re doing to ourselves.
“We get three-and-outs, and then we might get them in a third-and-long situation and blow a coverage or blow an assignment. Against a good team, you just can’t do that.”
Briarwood (9-1) made it hurt big time, gaining 335 of their 472 total yards in the first half. Running back Matthew Furuto rushed for 70 of his 94 yards before halftime, and quarterback Benjamin Craft passed for 265 of the Lions’ 381 yards by halftime.
Furuto rushed for scores of eight and two yards in the first half, and Craft passes for touchdowns of 16 and 38 yards to Coleman Pearson.
Anniston, led by running back Troymaine Pope’s 186 yards rushing on the night, looked to be game for a rally early in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs had first down at Briarwood’s 42-yard line after Furuto muffed the first punt of the second half, but Anniston punted after three Spencer Howard incomplete passes.
Pope goosed Anniston’s next possession with a 35-yard run, and he finished it with a 6-yard touchdown run on fourth down and 1. That closed the gap to within 27-7 at 6:30 of the third quarter.
Pope struck again on Anniston’s next possession with a 34-yard run to Briarwood’s 20-yard line, but the Bulldogs lost 10 yards on their next three plays. Howard’s fourth-down pass attempt missed Pope.
Briarwood responded with a 70-yard, 7-play drive, aided by two pass interference penalties by Anniston in the end zone. Craft connected with Michael Lathem for a 4-yard score on the third quarter’s final play to make it 34-7.
“We just came out more focused on doing our assignment every play,” Pope said.
Problem was, it too little, too late against the Lions, who kept the pressure on Anniston’s suspect secondary. Craft completed 24 of 32 passes for 360 yards and three scores.
Backup quarterback Jonathan Stapleton added a 21-yard completion to Brayden Housel in the fourth quarter to make it 381 passing yards for the Lions on the night.
“We try to be balanced, but tonight Ben was throwing well, and we caught the ball real well,” Briarwood coach Fred Yancey said.
On the other end, Pope put up big numbers against a good team that had to know stopping him was a key.
“He’s really a terrific back,” Yancey said. “He has such great vision and balance and patience, and he’s explosive. I think he’s the real deal.”
Briarwood, champion of 5A, Region 5, will play host to Athens next week.
Anniston, which has won its region two years in a row, lost to three non-region opponents this season, including two 5A teams. Bullock hopes the Bulldogs are ready for the 4A playoffs.
“I feel good,” he said. “We’re not going to meet a whole lot of Briarwoods until we get deep into the playoffs. That’s no knock on the other teams, but that gives us time to get things in tune and work out some of the little kinks we’ve got in.
“Once we do that, we can play with anybody.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.