No. 4-ranked Class 1A Brantley falls short against No. 2-ranked 2A Highland Home

Published 1:40 am Friday, September 23, 2022

Brantley High School’s Class 1A football squad, ranked No. 4 in the Alabama Sports Writers Association poll, pushed No. 2-ranked 2A Highland Home to the limit, but fell short, 28-27, in the final 15 minutes of a hard-nosed battle Thursday night at Brantley Field.

Trailing 27-14 with 2:19 to play in the third quarter, Flying Squadron defender Terrin Brown stood up Bulldogs running back Kedrick Brown at the Brantley 21-yard line, stripped away the football, and hit the afterburners to the end zone on a 21-yard fumble return touchdown to make it a one-possession game, 27-21.

After a Brantley punt, Highland Home home scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 40-yard pass from Flying Squadron quarterback Brice McKenzie to wide receiver JJ Faulk. Kicker Austin Norman, who went 4-of-4 on extra point attempts, hit what would be the game-winning kick to land a sixth victory for Highland Home.

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Highland Home head coach Will Pouncey said Brantley was more than just a tough 1A opponent.

“We’re in Brantley, Alabama, (and) this is the Brantley Bulldogs,” Pouncey said. “The tradition at this school is unmatched for anybody down in the south. For our guys to come in here on Thursday night in Brantley, be resilient, and come back to win, I’m just extremely proud, but kudos to Brantley for how they played. It’s just a big win for our program.”

Brantley’s final drive of the night stalled around the Flying Squadron 40-yard line, and the Bulldogs punted in hopes the defense could get a stop.

“To be a champion, you’ve got to overcome adversity, and we didn’t,” said Brantley head coach Roland Jones, Jr. “Hat’s off to Highland Home. They played a great game and have a lot of great athletes. That’s the No. 2 team in Class 2A, and we’re 1A. Our kids fought. We’ve just got to get better to reach our goal at the end of the season. Our goal is to be in Auburn, and playing teams like this makes us better.”

Highland Home’s offense ground out the final 7:30 of the contest, operating out of its double-wing formation, to close out the game.

“We were probably considered dead in the water,” Pouncey said. “We were down 27-14 in Brantley in the second half, and we (get) a big play from our defense. We got our offense going, and we got a little momentum …That last drive to seal it, whenever we went foot-to-foot in our double-wing and just pounded the ball for about 70 yards or whatever it was to put the game away, that’s what I was most impressed with. I think we had the ball, and we ran the last seven minutes off the clock. That’s what it’s going to take to win in the playoffs, and this night, it prepared both teams for that.” 

Neither team gave much ground in the first quarter of the contest, with Brantley’s first three possessions ending in a three-and-out and back-to-back interceptions by Bulldogs quarterback Jayden Parks, while Highland Home’s first two drives resulted in a three-and-out.

JJ Faulk and Norman secured those turnovers, the second setting up the Flying Squadron’s first touchdown.

McKenzie found KD Shepherd on a corner route near the front pylon of the end zone on a 31-yard pass with 3:45 left in the first stanza to put his team ahead 7-0.

Brantley answered with a 4-yard touchdown run by Brown with 11:55 to play in the half to tie the contest 7-all.

On the ensuing kickoff, Highland Home kick returner Tyler Chaney weaved through the Bulldogs coverage unit for a 68-yard touchdown to retake the lead, 14-7.

Brown punched in his second rushing touchdown on a 6-yard run to the right side with 8:58 remaining before the intermission to even the score at 14-all.

Highland Home took possession, but its drive ended abruptly after Brantley defender Jon Bush intercepted McKenzie and returned the ball to the Flying Squadron 11-yard line.

The Bulldogs couldn’t capitalize, and after a holding penalty negated a 6-yard touchdown pass from Jayden Parks to Kaleb Weed, Brantley’s drive ended with Jayden Parks being sacked at the Flying Squadron 35-yard line.

The teams fought to a 14-all stalemate at halftime. While both teams retired to the locker rooms, the fans in attendance endured a torrential downpour that soaked the field.

Brantley benefitted from the field conditions early in Highland Home’s first drive of the third quarter. The Flying Squadron lost control of the snap on the second play from scrimmage, and the Bulldogs recovered at the Highland Home 29-yard line.

Inside the red zone, an ineligible player downfield penalty wiped away a 14-yard touchdown pass from Jayden Parks to Bush, but the combo reconnected the next play on a 19-yard pass to move ahead 21-14.

Weed ended Highland Home’s second drive of the half by picking off McKenzie to set up another scoring drive for Brantley. Jayden Parks hit Jordan Parks with a 46-yard touchdown pass, but Jayden, who injured his ankle in the second quarter, couldn’t fulfill his extra-point duties.

The Bulldogs attempted, but did not convert, a 2-point try, leaving the score 27-14.

“He (Jayden Parks) had a twisted ankle,” Jones said. “We didn’t have a choice.”

Highland Home held Brantley’s explosive rushing attack to 68 rushing yards on 35 carries, a feat Jones attributed to the Flying Squadron having two 5-star talents at defensive end and linebacker. He added these are the kinds of games that help prepare them for the future.

“These are the kinds of games we need to be in,” Jones said. “(These)  50-point blowouts, we don’t learn anything. It’s these 1-point games that you learn stuff (and) you’ve got to realize what you need to work on. This is a good test for us, and it was a good test for Highland Home. We’re so proud of both schools.”

The chippy affair featured 21 penalties (8 for 70 yards for Highland Home, 13 for 130 yards for Brantley), but Pouncey said it’s less a lack of discipline and more an aura of pride these teams display when they clash on the gridiron.

“In a Crenshaw County rivalry, it’s all about respect,” Pouncey said. “That’s called pride and passion. There’s going to be a little chippiness because of the pride that you’ve got for your school and your team, and you’re playing a county rival – guys that you talk to everyday and you’re going to see for the rest of your life.”

Brantley (4-2, 3-1) will host 1A, Region 2 foe Georgiana (5-0, 4-0) on Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. in a midseason matchup featuring two teams jockeying for postseason position.

Highland Home (6-0, 3-0) will battle 2A, Region 3 rival Luverne on Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. in a battle of unbeatens in region play.