By Thomas Sellers Jr.
In Round One the Cardinals took care of Dyer County to exercise the First Round demons of the past two seasons.
Friday night presented Brighton with a chance to be on the winning side of a comeback. Last year the Cardinals dropped a double overtime thriller to Henry County 41-40. After trailing the Southwind Jaguars 34-7 at halftime in the Second Round contest, the Cardinals fought back like they did last year against Henry County.
And it was Brighton this time leaving the field with November Glory outlasting the Jaguars 49-48 to advance to the Quarterfinals for the first time in school history since 2003. The opponent in the next round for Brighton — the Henry County Patriots presenting the Cardinals with another shot at redemption.
“We talked about the Henry County game last year,” Brighton Head Coach Robin Jacobs said. “We were on the other side last year. We didn’t make the two-point conversion. We went for two this time and Malik made it. Just being in that position last year and then again this year helped him out a lot.”
Whether it was adjusting to the cold temperatures or the lineup change along the offensive line, the Cardinals seemed out of rhythm in the first half.
Southwind (8-4) jumped ahead 21-0 in the first quarter with touchdowns from Jalen Alexander, Donterrio Smith and Traesion Davis-Fisher.
The Jaguars advantage grew to 28-0 at the 4:33 mark of the second quarter when Smith exploded for a 73-yard touchdown run.
Brighton finally cracked the scoreboard of the Brighton Football Stadium when Malik Jackson capped off a drive with an 18-yard TD scamper.
Southwind had the final score of the first half when Alexander crossed the goal line for his second touchdown of the night to make the tally 34-7.
“We had to step up our game,” Brighton senior Cameron John said. “We were down 34-7. We just had to come back and play like ourselves.”
The Cardinals began to play like the team that won the 2017 Region 8-5A championship in the third quarter racking up three touchdowns.
Brighton senior running back Lance West made the first big run of the period with a 39-yard score. Then the Cardinals got a shot in the arm courtesy of the defense when Aaron Alston picked off a Jaguar pass and returned it 35 yards to the end zone to make the score 34-21.
“That put us within two touchdowns,” Jacobs noted. “Honestly I think that put doubt into their minds. It looked like the air came out of them. I knew if we could get close to them we could get them.”
Brighton (8-4) got closer when Jackson hit James Carson with a pass for a big gain inside the Southwind 20 yard line. Moments later West hit paydirt from 3 yards out to make the score 34-28 with 14.2 seconds remaining in the third.
The Brighton comeback continued in the fourth quarter sparked by another key defensive play when Hunter Twisdale sacked the Southwind quarterback to force fourth down.
The Jaguars’ punt pinned the Cardinals deep into their own side of the field. Starting the drive from the 9-yard line, Jackson called his own number taking the ball through the line of scrimmage and up the sideline for the 91-yard touchdown.
“I didn’t think I was going to run that far,” Jackson acknowledged. “I thought I was going to get tackled. I was waiting on somebody. It felt good to get to the end zone.”
The extra point gave Brighton its first lead of the night at 35-34.
The lackadaisical Jaguars got a spark at the 5:29 mark recovering a Cardinal fumble on the 19 yard line. Smith cashed in on the turnover with a 4-yard run into the end zone to make the score 42-35 in favor of Southwind.
Less than 2 minutes later Brighton answered going to West for a 47-yard TD run making the scoreboard read 42-41. The Cardinals appeared to tie the game with the extra point when a flag was thrown.
Despite the flag being picked up for a no-call, Brighton had retry the point after. The kicked was missed and Southwind clanged to a 42-41 lead.
The Cardinals called for an onside kick and recovered the ball on the 42 yard line. With 2 minutes and 37 seconds left West broke loose again through the Southwind defense. The senior back scored on a 36 yard run making the score 47-42.
Jacobs called for two points and put the ball into the hands of his senior quarterback. Jackson fought through the crowded line of scrimmage to cross the goal line and earn the two points to make the tally 49-42.
“We had to get ourselves together first of all,” Jackson said. “It was like another Henry County game last year we had to come back. We overcame it tonight.”
With 2:28 on the clock, Southwind had a chance to drive down the field and win the game. Two minutes later the Jaguars find success when Davis-Fisher hauled in a 12-yard pass from Cortarius Wilson for a touchdown. The score was 49-48 in favor of Brighton.
Southwind made the call for two points. The Jaguars tried to pass the ball to win the game but Cardinal Keionte Newson and a teammate broke up the attempt to stop Southwind.
The Jaguars attempted their own onside kick and was successful retaining the ball 43 yards away from victory with slightly more than 20 seconds remaining.
The Brighton defense broke up four Southwind passes to survive and advance to the Quarterfinal Round to take on Henry County in Paris.
“We stopped them at the end,” John said. “We did our jobs to move on. We had to just play harder and we got things in order. We just played our game. It feels unbelievable that we did it.”
Jacobs was glad to see his players on the winning side of a thriller.
“I told them we were going to do it one play at a time,” he recalled. “I know we can score points, but not getting 42 in the second half. But these kids did. They’re resilient. They go hard Lance West and Malik came through again with big runs at the end.
Jacobs said the Cardinals will make the trip to Paris ready for a battle against the team that eliminated them last season.
“We’re 8 quarters away from going to Cookeville,” he concluded. “There’s some light at the end of the tunnel for us.”