By Lee Davis
Journal Sports Writer
When the members of the Briarwood football team enjoy Christmas dinner with their families in a few weeks, one item that won’t be welcomed on the serving plate will be turnovers of any kind.
They’ve seen enough of those for a while.
In the culinary world, turnovers can be delicious treats. In the football world, they can be as deadly as poison, particularly when a state championship is on the line.
The Lions learned the latter lesson the hard way, committing five turnovers in last Thursday’s Class 5A championship game at Auburn University’s Jordan-Hare Stadium. The net result was a 14-0 loss to Spanish Fort.
“Our whole game plan was that if we didn’t turn the ball over, we’d be okay,” said a gracious Briarwood coach Fred Yancey afterward. “So right off the bat, we go out and show that we can move the ball, and then we leave it on the ground. It’s hard to win at the championship level when you do that.”
On its opening possession, Briarwood moved the ball to the Toro 46 before losing a fumble. The second Lion offensive thrust reached the Spanish Fort 13-yard line but resulted in another lost fumble. Briarwood’s third drive moved to the Toro 30, but the Lions were stopped on fourth down.
Briarwood’s fourth possession also resulted in a lost fumble.
Meanwhile, Spanish Fort’s Ameriol Finley scored on a nine-yard run to give the Toros a 7-0 halftime lead.
Turnovers continued to plague the Lions in the second half. On its sixth possession of the game, Briarwood moved into Spanish Fort territory but threw an interception. The fatal blow came in the fourth quarter when the Lions threw a second pass that was intercepted at the Briarwood 20-yard line.
From there, the Toros put together a short drive, climaxed by Finley’s three-yard run, that gave Spanish Fort an insurmountable 14-0 lead.
Finley, who rushed for 174 yards on 37 carries, was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
The Lions completed their season with an impressive 13-2 record. Briarwood’s only regular season defeat came at the hands of perennial Class 6A power Vestavia Hills.
“This was our year to grow and to grow up,” said Yancey. “This was Spanish Fort’s year to be the best team in the state, not ours.
“But we’ll work hard and try to get back here.”
Briarwood junior quarterback Ben Craft accepted the disappointing evening with the maturity and dignity that is typical of him.
“I’m not kicking myself,” he said. “I made some mistakes tonight, no doubt. But everybody makes mistakes – nobody on this earth is perfect. But I believe Briarwood’s best days are still ahead.”
The Lions finished with an even 200 yards of total offense and punted only once. But the five turnovers were just too much to overcome.
Chad Davis led Briarwood’s defensive efforts with 11 tackles.
“Spanish Fort had a lot of intense players,” said Davis. “I’m not saying they wanted to win more than we did, because I don’t think that’s true. But they were very intense.”
Forcing its opponent to give up the ball had been a big part of Spanish Fort’s winning formula in the post-season. In their final three playoff games, the Toros forced 14 total turnovers, including the five that the Lions surrendered.
Ironically, Briarwood’s quarterback was no stranger to championship games. As a youngster growing up in Alexander City, Craft served as a ball boy for the Benjamin Russell Wildcats in their Class 5A championship battles against Homewood in 2000 and 2001 at Birmingham’s Legion Field. The Patriots won the first game 41-34 before Benjamin Russell bounced back to win the rematch 48-21 a year later.
Craft seemed confident that he hasn’t made his final trip to the championship finale.
“We’re going to be fired up and work to get here again next year,” he said. “Only next time, we want to be on the other (winning) side.”
The rest of Class 5A would do well to heed Craft’s warning.