By Thomas Sellers Jr.
And maybe the heart and soul of that class are quarterback Malik Jackson and running back Lance West. The duo was crucial in the previous week’s upset 34-31 win at Henry County in the Quarterfinals. The victory allowed the Cardinals to advance to the school’s first State Semifinals.
Friday night Brighton made the journey to Hendersonville for the Class 5A Semifinals against the unbeaten Beech Buccaneers. The tough defense of the Bucs set the tempo early and sent Brighton’s backfield of West and Jackson to the sideline.
West had a noticeable limp and running was labored. Jackson suffered a huge hit knocking his helmet off in the first quarter. Despite the setbacks the Cardinals pushed Beech, but the Bucs were able to secure a 21-3 victory and trip to this week’s Class 5A State championship game in Cookeville to play Knoxville Catholic.
“It had to stop soon or later,” Brighton Head Coach Robin Jacobs said. “Oh man, there defense is outstanding. Everywhere we went, they had a guy. They played really well. You can’t say anything bad about them. They earned this game.
“We had opportunities a couple of times and they turned us back,” he continued. “Toward the goal line on fourth and one down there, we thought we could get that and we didn’t get that either. We did all we could to try to get in. They’re really good on defense. They’re rock solid. Congratulations to Beech.”
Both defense ruled the first quarter on the soggy turf of Beech Football Stadium. Both squads had to punt twice in the opening quarter.
Then Beech’s offense used the rushing of senior Kaemon Dunlap to get on the scoreboard. Less than three minutes into the second quarter Dunlap capped off a Buccaneer drive with a 1-yard TD run to make the score 7-0.
Meanwhile the Cardinals were trying to adjust on the fly with Jackson and West nursing injuries. Both players came in and out of the contest trying to erase the 7-point deficit.
But before halftime came the Buccaneers added to their advantage when Dunlap cross the goal line from 8 yards out with 1:13 remaining. Beech was ahead 14-0 at the break.
With Jackson out for the second half, Brighton handed the ball to Nick Johnson at quarterback. Johnson managed a scoring drive to start the second half.
A hobbled West caught a short pass and exploded up field for a big gain. Then West took a handoff and broke loose for another large gain. Next James Carson hauled in a Johnson pass deep in Beech territory.
Brighton kicker Ethan Starnes cashed in the drive with a 34-yard field goal to make the score 14-3.
“Nick came in and did really good for us,” Jacobs said. “Malik out, we didn’t have the running ability. Nick came in and moved the ball down the field. We had opportunities. We had the personal foul on a fourth down and they had to punt. That was big. That probably turned the game.”
Another notable sequence of the game came when the Cardinal defense forced a Beech fumble with 3 minutes and 20 seconds left in the third quarter. With the ball on the 31 yard line, Brighton was in prime position to make the score 14-10.
Facing a fourth down and 1 yard to go at about the 5-yard line, the Cardinals went for the first down. When Beech’s front line stopped the running back, the momentum swung back to the home team.
At the 6;37 mark of the fourth quarter, Dunlap iced the game with a touchdown run.
“We’re happy we’ve got this far and moved the program,” Jacobs said. “We talked about it since my first year. Winning games at Brighton is not the problem, getting in the State playoffs and advancing. This guys did a great job of that and we’re so proud of them.”
When Jacobs took over four years ago, the Cardinals missed the playoffs in his first season. But since then the regular season marks have been 9-1, 7-3 and 6-4. Those season have ended in the playoffs and with a pair of titles. Jacobs said a large amount of gratitude goes to his seniors of Aaron Alston, Malik Jackson, RJ Piggie, Collins Morton, DeRobert Currie, Nick Chamberlain, Undreaus Rivers, Lance West, Demetrius Frisson, Josh Dupuis, AJ Harris, Drew Twisdale, Blake Taylor, TJ Teamer, Jordan Jones, Jordan John, DJ Barker, Conner James, Zack Dickinson, Spencer Cartwright, Imari Allen, Tyler Carmack, Josh McFarland, Alex Belue, Enrique Toliver, Logan Murphy, Cameron John and Jacob Hoy.
“I don’t know how much more you can say about them,” Jacobs concluded. “They are 17-4 with their Region record. In three years, two Region championship and a runner-up. They advance to the Semifinals of the State playoffs. They came one game short. They gave a lot to us and now they’re about to go. You look at teams we played, we don’t’ look like them. But we have champions and they were 28-10 in three years. We are very proud of them.”