Wilkes Walker outruns the Edmund Burke Academy defenders to score on a 56-yard pass completion for the Bucs’ first of two touchdowns last Friday night.

Not only did Briarwood Academy reclaim the Backyard Battle trophy last Friday night, they also earned the right to host a first-round GISA state playoff game on Nov. Nov. 19.

In the final regular season game of the year, the Bucs defeated Edmund Burke Academy 12-7. Ironically, those two teams will be facing off again in the first-round GISA playoff game at Briarwood.

“There were a lot of mistakes made on offense that we’ve got to correct. Our defense really played well, stepped up after the first drive and made some plays for us,” said Bo Fleming, Briarwood Academy head coach. “We knew it was going to be tough. They’re a rivalry game and they do a good job over there of coaching these guys and getting them ready. Somehow, some way we pulled it out and we get to host a playoff game. That’s what we’ve been wanting for a long time.”

Last Friday, the EBA Spartans struck first and took a 7-0 lead in the opening minutes of the first quarter. The two teams then proceeded to slug it out with each ending multiple drives either on punts or with failed fouth-down conversion attempts. EBA’s first punt of the night, very late in the first quarter, rolled dead at Briarwood’s 10 yard line.

The Bucs were backed up deep in their territory but punched the ball forward on the ground initially for six plays and two first downs. Then quarterback Branson Beggs hit Wilkes Walker who shook off several defenders and raced the distance for a 56-yard touchdown. The Bucs then walked away without the extra point, despite an odd mix of attempts. The point-after hold was bobbled and what appeared to be a completed pass was negated by officials because they ruled the play dead because the holder’s knee touched the ground. The officials deemed to replay the attempt. On the second try, the kick missed, but EBA was flagged for roughing the kicker.

With the ball advanced half the distance to the goal, the Bucs lined up to attempt the two-point conversion. A quarterback sneak by Beggs was held at the line and stopped. With 11:00 minutes remaining in the second quarter the Spartans led 7-6, a margin that held into the half. In the opening possessions of the second half, neither offense found success. Then, Briarwood’s punting game gave the Bucs the upper hand. Briarwood punter Charlie Mosley booted the ball and it rolled down on EBA’s 3 yard line.

“Charlie did an excellent job punting for us all year. The guys got down there and downed it right inside the five,” Fleming said.

On first down, the Bucs dropped the ball carrier for a 1-yard loss. On second down, the Bucs held firm. Then on third down Briarwood forced a fumble and recovered, giving the Briarwood offense the ball on EBA’s 7 yard line. On the first play, Beggs hit Tucker Lord for a touchdown. The two-point conversion failed, however the 12-7 lead would prove to be enough to win the game.

“We went for the quick strike. Branson made a good throw and Tucker made a good catch,” Fleming said.

Later, in the fourth quarter, the Bucs threatened to score but Reese fumbled near the end zone and EBA recovered. He soon redeemed himself two plays later with an interception. Reese returned the pick to the end zone but it was called back when the Bucs were flagged for a block in the back on the return. However, Reese’s interception sealed the win by shutting down EBA’s final chance on office. With a little more than 2:00 remaining in the game, all the Bucs need to do was run enough plays to burn the block.

Reese led the Bucs’ offense in rushing yardage with 127 yards from 29 carries. Mosley contributed 23 yards from two carries. Beggs was 5 of 11 in passing for 95 yards and two touchdowns. Lord had three receptions for 20 yards and one touchdown. Walker’s sole reception of the night was the 56-yard touchdown. Gavin Taylor also had one reception for 19 yards. Bonner Reynolds and Eli Bragg led the defensive effort for Briarwood. Both had 10 total tackles with Reynolds making 7 solo tackles and Bragg 6.

Mosley and Josh Addyman each had a fumble recovery on defense.

GISA Class AA football state playoffs begin Nov. 19. Briarwood, 7-4; will host EBA, 3-7.

“They’ll come here again and it’ll be another tight ballgame. It’ll come down to turnovers and we need to win the turnover margin. Offensively, we need to do better up front,” Fleming said. “We’ve got two weeks to prepare. We’re excited and glad to be back home.”

The winner of that game will face the winner of Terrell Academy, 9-1; and Augusta Prep, 4-6. That round-two game will be played Nov. 26 and Fleming expects Terrell Academy to be the team to beat in round two.

“Terrell’s a very good team, they’re 9-1, and they’ve got weapons all over the field,” Fleming said.

The winner of that game will advance to the state championship at Mercer University on Friday, Dec. 3. The four teams competing on the other half of the playoff bracket are Brentwood, Robert Toombs Academy, Gatewood, an Southwest Georgia.