By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports
The 46th Backyard Brawl between Byrd and Captain Shreve Thursday night at Independence Stadium made up for any of its predecessors that didn’t keep everybody in the stadium on edge until the closing seconds.
It was everything a rivalry game should be, up to and including a fourth quarter with more twists and turns than a really good dance line performance.
The last ones:
- One snap after Shreve’s defensive interior stuffed a fourth-and-2 Byrd dive play, Jamarlon “Bobo” Otis exploded through the right side of the Gators’ line, into the secondary, over to the sideline and 66 yards to the house, with 4:52 left, providing the difference in a 35-28 thriller featuring four fourth-quarter touchdowns, two by each side — all covering no less than 21 yards.
- The Shreve defense, victimized twice in a row a few minutes earlier, costing the Gators the lead – on back-to-back snaps by Byrd for breakaway TD dashes on toss sweeps to the right from Malachi Johnson – finally figuring it out when it mattered most, twice smacking him down for losses on what wound up as the Yellow Jackets’ last possession, in the wake of Otis’ stunning run.
Appropriately, Otis salted away the outcome. Facing fourth and 12 at its own 18 with 2:28 left, Byrd punted, hoping to get a better chance. A 3-yard surge up the middle by Otis converted Shreve’s final third down with 53 seconds left, allowing the Gators to well, gator and do various other dances as the final seconds ticked off.
Captain Shreve (3-1, 1-0 in District 1-5A) couldn’t put away a typically gutsy but uncharacteristically winless Byrd team that played its third-team quarterback the whole night, and never threw a pass.
Not only did the Gators not pull away, but early in the final quarter, they fell behind. Two snaps, same play. Toss sweep right, to jitterbug Johnson. Byrd snagged a 21-20 edge on his 23-yard burst and Abram Murray’s extra point with 11:15 left. Then a minute later, after a 3-and-out by Shreve, Johnson housed it from 41 yards.
A 14-point turnaround in the final quarter, from six up to eight down, is pretty hard to handle. But not for the 2023 Gators, trying to beat their arch-rival for the first time in four years.
It did require some faith, said Otis, who totalled 190 yards and two TDs on 25 totes.
“Just cheer on the defense, believe they’ll get a stop. The offense’s gotta get on the field and score — fast.”
The Gators scored fast to get close. They scored really fast to win. As in one play, “21 Cut.”
“Soon as coach called the play,” said a beaming Otis, “I told the quarterback, ‘hand it off. It’s a touchdown.’
“When I get to the sideline, it’s a touchdown. Put the points on the board – ain’t nobody gonna catch me.”
Nobody came close.
It followed a rapid five-play, 56-yard drive on Shreve’s previous possession, staring down a 28-20 Byrd advantage. Brodie Savage flipped to Keaton Flowers in the right flat, and he dodged two tackles on his 21-yard TD. John Chance kicked the extra point – leaving the Gators down 28-27 with 8:14 left.
And leaving lots of Shreve fans perplexed, at least.
“It’s 28-26 (after the TD), and they’d been driving up and down the field. I knew if they scored again, and we (had) missed the two-point try, it’s 35-26, a nine-point game, a two-possession game,” said second-year Gators’ coach Adam Kirby.
“Trust me, I heard it in the stands, that I was a dumbass. If we kick and make it 28-27, a field goal still wins the game. If they score to make it 35-27, it’s still a one-possession ballgame. You can’t let emotion take over. Turns out it was the right move.
“We never panicked,” Kirby said. “I don’t think we ever lost control of the ballgame, even when they went up.”
All the late drama overshadowed a fantastic fight from the young Yellow Jackets (0-4, 0-1), whose offense was guided by first-time starter, third-team QB, converted tight end, Number 25 in your program, Harrison Ayers.
“That was a good high school football game. I told my kids I’m proud of the way they fought,” said Byrd coach Stacy Ballew. “Hats off to Captain Shreve, they played a heck of a game. We didn’t make plays when we needed to.
“Harrison played a good game, in his first start. We didn’t have turnovers, he managed the offense (to 306 rushing yards), all we could ask.”
The Gators had bookend drives of 64 yards ending the first half and 75 more in their first third-quarter chance that both finished with Chance field goals (33, 35 yards) instead of touchdowns. That and a couple of Dixon Poirier TD runs (7, 6 yards, among his 142 on 21 carries before he was knocked out of the game, at least), kept the Jackets in hailing distance. Then they dialed long distance in their own clutch fourth-period comeback.
“We knew they were going to hit big plays,” said Kirby. “They’re so good at what they do. Anything you throw at them, they know how to counter it. We had to be patient, play our game, play fast, physical, fearless, a full four-quarter mentality, and we did that tonight.”
As usual, he recited his weeklong mantra.
“It means we’re 1-0 in district, and that was our goal coming in. Obviously this game means a lot to our student body, to our alumni, to our school, to a lot of people in the city. So I’m happy for those people. Proud of our guys,” Kirby said.
Suddenly, his poker face cracked a bit, asked about the impact of the victory for his senior class.
“Don’t do that to me,” he said, pausing to gather his emotions. “I know how hard they worked, how bad they wanted this. To me it is another game, and we’ve gotta win them all. But to those seniors who have to walk around this city, and hear about it year after year after year, to finally have this opportunity their senior year … everybody’s all in on making Shreve the best it can be. For those seniors, what they’ve meant to me and helped me as a young head coach, this means a lot. It does.
“We’ve got six (more 1-5A) games. And if we go 3-7, I’ll get fired, so we’ve gotta go win some more games. But it’s a great win, a great night.”
Just another game? Just one of seven in 1-5A?
Kirby kept saying so. All week. Then at halftime, he broke his right hand, punching home a motivational point by KO-ing a dry erase board in the locker room.
No less committed, the Gators punched out their rivals in the final round.
Contact Doug at firstname.lastname@example.org
CAPTAIN SHREVE 35, C.E. BYRD 28
Byrd 7 7 0 14 – 28
CS 7 10 3 15 – 35
CS – Jordan Wiggins 42 pass from Brodie Savage (John Chance kick)
B – Dixon Poirier 7 run (Abram Murray kick)
CS – Jamarlon Otis 5 run (Chance kick)
B -Poirier 6 run (Murray kick)
CS – Chance 33 FG
B – Malachi Johnson 23 run (Murray kick)
B – Johnson 41 run (Murray kick)
CS – Keaton Flowers 21 pass from Savage (Chance kick)
CS – Otis 66 run (Flowers from Savage)
RUSHING – By (53-306) – Poirier 24-142, 2 TDs; Johnson 14-134, 2 TDs; Desmond Simmons 11-26; Harrison Ayres 6-5. CS – (27-198), Otis 25-190, 2 TDs; Savage 2-8.
PASSING – CS, Savage15-25-0-260, 2 TDs.
RECEIVING – CS, Flowers 7-82, 1TD; Wiggins 3-91, 1 TD; Kiarron Brossett 3-35; Gage Haley 2-52.