(Bremen, GA) — The Bremen High School student section were certain all signs pointed to a Blue Devil win just prior to Friday night’s huge region clash — but in the end (and on the field) all signs pointed to another Region 5-AA Championship for the Heard County Braves.
In the battle between two of the top five ranked teams in the state, a stellar performance from the Brave defense again led the way to a 20-7 win over the Devils — the Braves’ seventh straight victory to close out the regular season.
Coach Tim Barron’s seventh region title did not come easy versus a gritty and determined Blue Devil squad and in front of one of the largest home crowds the Braves have ever seen.
The Brave Nation faithful were also out in full force with an overflow crowd on the visitor’s side. It was an electric atmosphere for high school football with a lot on the line. The win not only secured the region crown for the Braves, but most importantly a No. 1 seed in the 2018 GHSA Class AA State Playoffs.
The Braves (8-2, 6-0) will next host the Monticello Hurricanes (5-5, 4-3), the No. 4 seed from north Georgia’s Region 8-AA this Friday night in Franklin.
Both offensives struggled to get into the end zone in the first half Friday until Brave senior Zaylin Wood helped the Devils find the wrong end zone early in the second quarter. Wood’s big stop for a safety gave the Braves a 2-0 lead that they would carry into halftime.
Wood was an absolute monster up front for the Braves and was in the Devil backfield all night long finishing the game with 2.5 sacks and eight tackles including four for a loss. He also batted down an attempted fourth down pass to give possession back to the Braves in a defensive performance for the ages.
Zaylin Wood wasn’t alone, however, with several Braves tallying big nights holding the Devils to 173 total yards with a big chunk of that total coming on just two pass plays in a quick TD scoring drive in the third quarter.
The junior trio of Tray Owens, Jai Wright, and Micaiah Austin each recorded a partial sack and tallied at least five tackles while David Urquilla continued to be one of the Braves’ top two-way players. He recorded two half sacks and a QB hurry.
Tray Dunson and Qua Thornton were also strong in pressure up front each causing two QB hurries.
Perhaps just as important as the guys up front was the play of the defensive backs with safety Aaron Beasley setting the tone early with a brutal hit on a Devil ball carrier early in the game.
Corners Alijah Huzzie and LeQuincy Shepherd were huge as well in limiting highly-touted senior Blue Devil receiver Jason Houston to just two catches for 18 yards.
Longtime Braves defensive coordinator D.J. Curbow attributes the strong defensive effort to the entire defense.
“We had constant pressure all night from our front four and Jai Wright who was blitzing off edge,” said Curbow. “Our kids played with great effort and we had 11 hats to the ball on almost every play. Bremen’s QB (Wade Cartwright) is a great player. We saw on film that when he has no pressure he never throws a bad ball — we knew we had to have pressure on him to have a shot.”
Curbow says that the leadership from the assistant defensive coaches has also been crucial to the late season surge that saw the defense has shut down two top- five opponents over the last three weeks.
“Coach Lasseter has done a great job having our up front guys ready up front week in and week out — they have just dominated. And our linebacker Coach Tyler Napier has been doing a great job in getting our backers to read their keys,” adds Curbow.
Offensively, the usual suspects continued to do the job as the Braves amassed 376 yards of total offense. Beasley became the latest Brave running back to rush for over 1000 yards, eclipsing the mark on one of his first carries of the game. Beasley finished the game with 110 yards on 22 attempts.
Huzzie’s legs also saw more action this week with 40 yards on 12 attempts while senior Andrew Leak punched it in from one yard out for the only rushing score of the night. The rest of the damage came via #HuzzieFactor through the air.
Huzzie’s favorite target was again Shepherd as the two connected on scoring passes twice from 29 yards and 59 yards.
Shepherd had another huge night hauling in five catches for 121 yards. Huzzie threw for 186 yards and perhaps none were bigger than a 65-yard strike to sophomore Ayden Cannon on 3rd and long on the opening drive of the third quarter to set up Leak’s burst from the one.
The Braves did struggle on PAT’s missing all three in the game.
One of the biggest and gutsiest decisions from Coach Tim Barron came on a 4th down play late in the game.
Leading 14-7 with just five minutes to play, the Braves faced a fourth-and-1 from their own 31-yard line and decided to go for it — the decision resulted in a 19-yard scamper from Huzzie that basically put the game away.
“When we broke out of the huddle, it was if we’re not 1,000 percent sure we’ve got it by alignment, we’re going to call timeout,” Barron said after the game. “If it wasn’t there by alignment, we would’ve called a timeout and punted the ball away.”
Barron was proud of the fight and tenacity the squad showed in winning back-to-back region crowns.
“I’m just so proud of them. They had to overcome a lot of adversity throughout this game,” Barron said. “We’re getting penalties, and instead of pointing fingers and all those things, we were just resilient. Just constantly staying focused and dialed in on the very next play. Letting that last play go and moving on to the next. That shows a lot of maturity out of them.”
The Braves do not have much time to celebrate as the state playoffs loom this week. The Braves will kickoff with the visiting Hurricanes this Friday night at Staples Stadium beginning at 7:30 PM. With a win, the Braves would advance to round two where they would host Douglas (No. 2 seed, Region 6-AA) or Pepperell (No. 3 seed, Region 7-AA). Looming in the third round for the Braves would be either host Thomasville, Hephzibah, Jeff Davis, or flip a coin for home field advantage versus Dublin.
The Braves win moved Callaway up to the region’s No. 2 seed and they will host Elbert County in round one. Bremen drops to the No. 3 seed and will travel to Union County while No. 4 seeded Spencer will visit Rabun County.