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Hunter Williams stepped in as a running back for Briarwood against Glascock County. He ran for 72 yards on 16 carries.

Briarwood Academy went into Friday night short two key players, then lost a third to injury early in the game. The end result was a close, hard-fought battle with the Glascock County Panthers. The Bucs pulled out a 34-21 win in the end, but for most of the night the teams were only one touchdown apart.

“It was a battle,” said Bo Fleming, Briarwood head coach. “It was a great night for Briarwood. Some kids really stepped up and made some plays when they needed to for us to get another win.”

The Bucs went into Friday’s game without starting quarterback Dax Reese and starting running back Lucas Freitas.  Both were injured last week. Then in the first quarter another key threat, Tucker Purvis, was injured.

“Coming into that game that was probably about 95 percent of our offense that did not play Friday,” said Fleming.

“Branson Beggs really stepped up and played great at quarterback. Hunter Williams stepped up at running back and ran the ball hard all night. Tucker Lord stepped up and made some plays on offense and a big play on defense,” said Fleming.

Briarwood struck first after receiving the kick and driving 61 yards to score. Branson Beggs broke a 20-yard touchdown run around the left end and with Trenton Cotton’s extra point kick the Bucs were up 7-0.

“We ran an option with Branson and he read it right and pulled it. Branson’s improved every week. He showed us something Friday and going forward we may need to use him a little more at quarterback,” said Fleming.

The Bucs again found success on their second possession of the night. Six plays into the drive the Bucs nearly stalled on fourth down, but a quarterback sneak by Beggs picked up the first down and kept the ball moving. Five plays later the Bucs appeared to score again, but a penalty meant the down was replayed. However, Beggs broke a 24-yard touchdown run on the next play. With Cotton’s kick, the Bucs’ stretched out to a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.

Glascock got the ball back and Nathan Haley jump started the Panthers’ drive with a 25-yard gain on first down. Eight plays later, Dylan Pickering scored from 7 yards out.

Briarwood carried a 14-7 lead into halftime.

The Panthers came out in the third quarter ready to move the ball but were halted by an interception by Briarwood’s Jacob Petrie.

Glascock’s final drive of the third quarter spanned over into the opening minutes of the fourth quarter and ended with a 32-yard touchdown pass. A two-point conversion attempt met stiff resistance from the Bucs’ defense and failed.

With 11:53 remaining in the game, Briarwood held a 14-13 lead.

But the Bucs soon struck again. Beggs connected to Crawford Thigpen on a 49-yard touchdown pass and Cotton converted the extra point.

“He (Thigpen) beat the guy and Branson made a perfect throw. He caught it in stride and walked into the end zone,” said Fleming.

Late in the final quarter, Glascock scored a third touchdown and converted on a two-point attempt.

With 4:54 remaining, the game was tied 21-21.

The Bucs charged down the field and Beggs connected to Petrie, who broke several tackles on a 19-yard touchdown reception. With the extra point, Briarwood had taken a 28-21 lead with 2:32 on the clock.

The Panthers still had time and for the most part pounded away on the ground, while the clock was ticking down. On the final play of the game the Panthers were in scoring range and took a shot at the end zone. But, Briarwood’s Tucker Lord picked off the pass for the win and also returned it 95 yards to score as time expired.

Fleming said in addition to having to contend with injured starters being out, the Glascock linemen also presented a challenge.

“They’ve got a big line, they outweigh us up front. All their starting linemen were seniors, except for one. Up front they just challenged us,” said Fleming.

On the offensive side for Briarwood, Beggs led the Bucs with 91 passing yards and 86 rushing yards, from 13 carries. Williams picked up 72 yards from 16 carries and Lord gained 31 yards from just two rushing attempts.

“Tucker (Lord) ran the ball hard all night,” said Fleming.

Among Briarwood receivers, Petrie had four receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown and Thigpen had the one catch, for 49 yards and a touchdown.

Braxton Blakey led the defense, finishing the night with a total of 21 tackles, 13 solo. Other defensive Bucs producing huge numbers included Scott Reynolds with 14 tackles, 8 solo; Gage Taylor with 14 tackles, 8 solo; and  Williams with 13 tackles, 6 solo.

This Friday the Bucs (2-2) host Gatewood School (3-1), of Eatonton. The two last met nearly a year ago in the AA state championship game, which Gatewood won.

“Gatewood brings in a really good team and they are the two-time defending champs. Nobody in AA has beat these guys in two years,” said Fleming.  “We’ve got a handful Friday night, but at least we’re playing at Briarwood.”

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