November 27, 2021

Huzzie to Shepherd Oh My! Braves pull off dramatic upset of No. 2 ranked Cavs

Brave seniors with the Pulpwood Classic trophy following Friday night’s stunning upset of No. 2 ranked Callaway in Franklin

(Franklin, GA) — Staples Stadium has been home to many great football games and moments since its erection in the early 1970’s. Friday night’s closing moment, however, may have been the very best of them all.

Trailing the state’s No. 2 ranked arch rival Callaway Cavaliers by a score of 10-0 with under five minutes to play in the game, senior Brave quarterback Alijah Huzzie led the 2018 Heard County Braves on two long touchdown drives to upset the state’s No. 2 ranked Callaway Cavaliers by a final score of 13-10 in the seventh edition of the Pulpwood Classic.

The epic finish came in the form of a 27-yard pass to senior LeQuincy Shepherd in the left corner of the north end zone with just two seconds to go in the game.

The Braves trailed the heavily favored and highly ranked Cavaliers 10-0 with under five minutes on the game clock prior to the frantic comeback that sent the sell-out home crowd into a Franklin frenzy.

Huzzie, Shepherd, and Aaron Beasley each had tremendous performances but the true key to the dramatic win came from a Brave defense that shut down a potent Callaway offense — one that entered the contest averaging 35 points per game.

The Brave defense held the Cavs to just 104 yards of total offense and allowed highly-touted division one recruit “Tank” Bigsby to just 64 yards rushing.

The defense only allowed points on a third quarter Bigsby TD after a botched punt attempt gave the Cavs the ball at the Brave 21 yard line and a long 42-yard fourth quarter field goal by Hunter Williamson that just cleared the cross bar with 8:01 to play.

And when it counted the most, the Brave defense forced a three and out to give Huzzie and the Brave offense the ball back with 2:02 to play and the opportunity to go on the game-winning drive.

Shepherd had two huge interceptions on the defensive side of the ball and the Braves shut down the Cavs running game all night long led by Zaylin Wood, Tray Owens, Andrew Leak, Sam Brown, Tray Dunson, Kesean Johnson, Jai Wright, Qua Thornton, Beasley, and a host of other Brave defenders.

The win did not come without adversity especially after Huzzie twice fumbled into the end zone while trying to stretch out for the goal line to give the Cavs the ball at the 20 on touchbacks.

The first fumble came as the Braves were trying to take the lead just before the half and the other just before the end of the third quarter — but Huzzie would prove to be more than just a factor as he overcame that adversity and an athletic Callaway defense by running the ball.

Huzzie led all rushers with 154 yards on 21 carries with his own athleticism and elusiveness including a game-changing scramble turning an almost certain sack into a 25 yard gain on the first play of the final scoring drive.

Senior Aaron Beasley gained 100 yards on 29 attempts and caught the first 8-yard TD pass from Huzzie to start the fourth quarter comeback.

Coach Tim Barron and staff’s game plan was clear — keep the Cavs offense off the field — and that they did as the Braves dominated the time of possession with several long and grueling drives. The Braves converted on nearly every fourth down attempt including twice from their own 24 yard line in the first half.

The Braves gained 319 yards on offense and proved they are capable of playing with any of the top teams in the state thanks to a strong push up front from the offensive line composed of David Urquilla, Jaidan Cameron, Anthony Graley, Michael Cheney, and Brenden Thompson.

Urquilla and Cheney persevered despite battling several injuries over the past few weeks.

It was just a supreme effort by the Braves in all facets of the game and Coach Barron was beaming with pride especially when talking about his team’s resilience in the all out Region 5-AA war.

“Good things and bad things are going to happen when you play a good football team like Callaway — so we just kept talking about being resilient, being resilient, being resilient — that’s what we preached about the entire week,” said Barron after the game.

“When the game was going on that’s all we talked about. You go down there and you turn it over twice trying to score. Then all of a sudden you go down 7-0. You feel like you’re beating them on the field the whole time, but you’re down,” Barron said.

“Just for the kids to be resilient and understand it’s a four-quarter battle, never give up and always continue to play and leave it on the field. All the things that we preach, they did it tonight.”

Huzzie has improved at the QB position week-by-week this season following the departure of Emory Jones to the University of Florida and the basketball team’s star point guard brought the same moxy he regularly displays on the basketball court to the gridiron Friday night.

Barron wasn’t shocked by Huzzie’s composure under the tremendous pressure situation. Huzzie also played much of the game on defense for the first time this season.

“They call it, ‘The Huzzie factor.’ Alijah just has this gene where it’s like no moment is ever to big for him,” Barron said. “And you can’t teach that. You can’t coach that. He’s just got it in his heart somewhere.”

“It is unreal how well our defense played tonight. D.J. Curbow did a great job, Randall Curbow did a great job I am proud of the job our entire coaching staff did this week. It took all 11 of our guys getting to the ball on defense tonight — this may not have been the most important win but I think might be the greatest win we’ve had as a program.”

The finish harkens back to the Braves’ first ever win over then Hogansville in 1986 where they trailed 15-0 late in the game before converting two scores and two point conversions to defeat the Greenwave 16-15 for the first time ever after dropping the first 13 games in the rivalry.

The game also played out in similar fashion to the 2007 Thursday night 10-7 upset win at Callaway where again an unranked Brave team knocked off the then No. 6 ranked Cavs while holding a potent offense at bay for the entire game.

Unlike last year’s 35-28 win at Staples, this win does not secure the Region 5-AA title for the Braves (6-2,4-0) as the squad must win a senior night home game versus Lamar County next week and then face a tough task at Bremen (7-1, 2-1) in the season’s final regular season game on November 2.

Playoff seedings will be crucial with the region’s No. 2 seed likely to face No. 1 ranked Hapeville Charter on the road in round two. The No. 3 seed from 5-AA would likely travel to Rockmart in round two. The eventual Region 5-AA Champion, however, will host the first two games of the playoffs.

The Braves are likely to vault back into the state’s top 10 rankings when they are released by the AJC tomorrow. It is not completely improbable that the Braves could meet these same Cavs once again down the line during the postseason as all three of the top teams in 5-AA look like state contenders.

The Cavaliers (7-2, 4-1) still hold a 4-3 edge in wins since the inception of the ‘Pulpwood Classic’ trophy but the current staff now own an 8-7 lead in the rivalry series during Barron’s tenure. The official Pulpwood Classic trophy will remain with the Braves for the next year.

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