December 7, 2021

Goliath defensive effort leads Braves over Dublin

(Dublin, GA) — For a second straight season, the Heard County Brave football team and fans decided to forego the latter portion of the Thanksgiving holiday to travel to South Georgia for a state quarterfinal match-up and for the second straight season, the Braves walked away victorious scoring an 18-3 win over the Dublin Fighting Irish at the famous Shamrock Bowl.

Many around the state projected the Braves to be underdogs to a vaunted Irish offense, but in the end it was the Brave defense that looked like Goliath after yet another suffocating effort to shut down a team that entered the game averaging 37.8 points per game.

The win was also the milestone 150th career win for head coach Tim Barron.

The Braves (11-2) will now return to Staples Stadium this week where they will host a familiar foe Fitzgerald, another powerhouse program from South Georgia. The Purple Hurricane (10-3), the No. 2 seed from a strong Region 1-AA knocked off Rabun County 28-17 in Tiger, GA Friday night to earn their spot in this week’s semifinal.

The Braves controlled the quarterfinal game and especially the line of scrimmage versus Coach Roger Holmes’ Dublin squad in the Black Friday showdown.

Even the three points that were allowed by the Braves came only after a big kickoff return to open the game for the Irish.

The long return set the Irish up deep in Brave territory at the 5-yard line but as it would all night the Brave defensive front held strong to force an early 33-yard field goal by the Irish, the only points they would score in the game.

A touchdown-saving tackle by Brave sophomore Alex Boyd on that opening return kept the Irish out of the end zone to set up the Brave defense for the big stop.

The Heard County Brave varsity cheerleading squad at Dublin Friday night before the Braves’ 18-3 quarterfinal state playoff win over Dublin. The Braves return home this Friday night for a state semifinal game versus Fitzgerald

A Brave fumble on its first offensive drive would again set the Irish up inside Brave territory but again the defense would once again turn it over on downs after a huge stop on 4th down and 1 from the Brave 37.

The Braves would then go on a methodical drive to eat up over 6:00 on the game clock and were inside the 1-yard line of the Irish as time expired in the first.

AlijahHuzzie carried it in on the first play of the second quarter to give the Braves a 6-3 lead (missed PAT) that they would never again relinquish. The Braves held on to the slim 6-3 lead at the half.

In the third quarter a fake punt on 4th down had Dublin driving deep inside Brave territory and looking for the lead, before senior Brave linebacker Andrew Leak came up with the biggest play of the game — hauling in an interception with a nice return to midfield.

Just moments later, Huzzie would find his favorite target senior LeQuincy Shepherd on a 52 yard bomb to extend the lead to 12-3 after another failed PAT attempt. Huzzie would connect yet again with Shepherd in the 4th quarter to put the game away by a final of 18-3.

The TD catch by Shepherd was his 11th of the season from Huzzie, a new Heard County school record for a single season.

The Braves did not air it out much Friday night but when they did they were very successful. Huzzie was 6-for-9 passing for 116 yards and the two TD’s.

The Brave rushing attack kept the Irish off the field for much of the game with the Braves maintaining a firm advantage in time of possession. Senior Aaron Beasley handled the bulk of the carries gaining 96 yards on 21 attempts. Huzzie had 54 yards on eight attempts on the ground.

Andrew Leak also had a productive game offensively catching two passes for 26 yards and rushing three times for 18 yards. The Braves offense gained 282 total yards in the game.

Brave offensive coordinator Randall Curbow says there is only one way to describe his senior QB who is starting for the first time in the role this year after backing up Emory Jones in his first three seasons. “Huzzie has just been a winner ever since we’ve had him,” said Curbow after the game.

Curbow was pleased overall with his offense Friday night despite some missed chances early on.

“I felt like missed some opportunities in the first half but Shepherd came up with some big catches for us in the second half. Our offense did enough to win tonight but it was our defense that was all-world tonight,” added the Braves OC.

It is hard to point to just one or two guys on the Brave defense in the win as the entire unit played phenomenally to shut down the vaunted Irish Wing-T attack. Coach D.J. Curbow’s stingy Brave defense allowed just 152 total yards and only five plays of 10 plus yards in the quarterfinal win.

Junior backer Jai Wright had a stellar performance as he led the team in tackles with 15 including five for a loss. The Braves prevented positive yardage on 16 of the 42 Irish plays from scrimmage.

Zaylin Wood and Tray Owens each had monster efforts to once again lead the Braves up front. Wood had nine tackles including five more for a loss to extend his school record to 35 and Owens recorded eight tackles with four for a loss of yardage.

Leak’s huge night included not only the timely interception but 12 tackles and several big time hits that kept the Irish on their toes all night long.

Other Brave defenders with solid performances included Beasley with eight tackles, Kesean Johnson and Micaiah Austin with seven tackles apiece, David Urquilla with six, Leroy Marsh with five, and Sam Brown with four.

Huzzie also performed well on the defensive side of the ball recording four tackles and recovering a big fumble that was forced by Beasley.

Brave head coach Tim Barron felt that the extra preparation time was a huge key as the team spent Thursday night in Macon and all day Friday working together in final preparations for the big Shamrock Bowl tilt.

“The ability to come down here the night before and have extra meeting time with the kids, have extra film time with the kids, getting them away from the distractions of a Thanksgiving vacation and just getting focused on playing assignment defense was big for us,” Barron said after the game. “We stole time that we wouldn’t have had if it wasn’t Thanksgiving break.”

“Our defense just played so hard for four quarters. We got scared when they got that opening kickoff but for us to be able to hold them to three and then just be so relentless and being resilient and being physical was huge for us. On defense tonight it was just 11 guys each taking care of their one responsibility and trusting their teammates to take care of their individual responsibilities, said Barron. “I just thought our coaches did a great job of treating this like a business trip and keeping these guys focused.”

A record-breaking crowd is expected on both sides at Staples Stadium for the big semifinal clash with the Purple Hurricane this Friday night. It will be the fourth meeting between the two schools with Fitzgerald winning all three handily.

The last meeting was a round two home state playoff loss to the Canes in 2015. Ironically, it was the first playoff QB appearance for a young freshman named Alijah Huzzie after then sophomore star Emory Jones suffered a broken leg on the first play of the game. Huzzie played well in that 24-7 loss despite his inexperience and facing a strong Cane defense that went on to the state title game.

On the other side of the Class AA bracket Friday night, the Braves’ Region 5-AA rival Callaway continued their strong run with a 35-20 home win over Washington County. They will travel Friday to face the state’s lone undefeated Class AA team, Rockmart, in the other semifinal. The Yellow Jackets dispensed of Jefferson County 48-13 on the road Friday.

The winners of the two Class AA semifinals are scheduled to meet for the GHSA Class AA State Championship at 1:00 PM on Saturday, December 8 at Mercedes benz Stadium in Atlanta although that date could be in doubt due to a potential MLS Cup Final involving the Atlanta United that same day.

One other area team advanced to the state semifinals Friday as the Troup County Tigers knocked off Cairo 20-17 in Class AAAA. The Tigers will travel to Blessed Trinity for the semifinals this week.

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