All those shutouts. All those seniors.
But it was a junior on offense who stole the show. Brantley receiver O.J. Guice caught a pair of touchdown passes, ran for 115 yards and another touchdown and made two crucial four-down stops on defense to give the Bulldogs their fourth state title in football with a 33-0 win over Marion County in the Class 1A state championship game at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“We just felt like we had an advantage, with his speed,” Brantley quarterback Andrew Lowery said. “We wanted to get him out on the edge. They were keying on him (later), and Andrew (Parker) had a lot of running room on the back side.”
Parker ran for 111 yards on 22 carries, including a 5-yard touchdown run that sealed the victory with 8:44 remaining. Guice added a 21-yard touchdown run, and Selleven Burnett scooped up a fumble and returned it 79 yards for the game’s final points, preserving the Bulldogs’ 10th shutout of the season.
“A tremendous effort by our defense tonight,” Brantley coach David Lowery said. “I don’t think you ever expect to have 10 shutouts in a season. You can’t ever predict things like that.”
The Bulldogs were predicted to be good, simply because of a larger than normal class of 16 seniors that had grown up together. Still, an impressive list of statistics that included nearly 700 points on offense and just four touchdowns surrendered by defensive starters didn’t seem to get the attention of defending state champion Marion County, which boasted three 1,000-yard rushers.
“We didn’t really think about a shutout, but some of our linebackers had read a few articles about how we didn’t have good linebackers, and we didn’t play really well on defense,” David Lowery said. “They kind of took that to heart. They wanted to prove a point tonight.”
Senior linebacker Adrian Howard, who led all tacklers with 11 solo stops and 14 total tackles, held a Marion County offense that averaged nearly 50 points per game to 173 total yards.
“That (pregame talk) didn’t do anything but motivate me to come out and play better,” Howard said. “But we weren’t really studying what they said about us not having any linebackers. Really, we thought it was pretty funny. How could we not have any (good) linebackers with nine shutouts this season?”
Marion County (13-2) drove into Brantley territory four times and was stopped twice by turnovers and twice by Guice. With time running out in the first half and Brantley nursing a 12-0 lead, DeShawn Riebesehl headed for the first-down marker on a fourth-down run, but was hit in the shoulder pads and driven out of bounds by Guice inches short of the first down.
Taking the ball to the Brantley 23 on its next possession, Marion County was again facing fourth down when Sean Wallace lofted a pass to the pylon for Riebesehl. The senior tailback jumped for the ball, but Guice was there to wrestle it away for an incomplete pass, turning it over on downs.
The Bulldogs (15-0) scored all of the points they would need on the opening drive, an impressive 61-yard drive that included three runs by Guice for 41 yards and was capped by a third-and-12 pass from Andrew Lowery to Guice that covered the final 15 yards.
“We did put in a couple of special plays for this game,” David Lowery said. “The first touchdown pass O.J. caught was actually out of the backfield. We haven’t shown that all year. And running him a little on the toss at the end to get him on the edge was a little different.”
Guice, the Bulldogs’ leading receiver this season, lined up at tailback and drifted out of the left side of the backfield. With the Bulldogs lined up in a formation to the right, no one covered Guice and Lowery had an easy target for the game’s first points.
“We had just put (the play) in this week,” said Guice, who was chosen as the game’s most valuable player. “We thought if we put me in the backfield, it would change up their whole scheme. We ran the wheel (route), and it was wide open.”
Midway through the second quarter, Lowery found Guice again for a 12-0 lead. While the outcome was still in doubt entering the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs never showed any sign of wearing down. The Red Raiders only had two plays of more than 10 yards before their final drive in the fourth quarter.
That drive ended with similar results. Marion County drove to the Brantley 15-yard line in the final minute, trying in vain not to become the Bulldogs’ 10th shutout victim.
“We made it this far in the game without letting them score,” Howard said, “so it was very important that we keep them off the board.”
Fellow linebacker Zeth Johnson blindsided Marion County quarterback Sean Wallace, jarring the ball loose. Burnett scooped up the fumble and sprinted for the end zone and the Bulldogs’ final points.
“We didn’t come here looking for a blowout,” Howard said, “but we showed up and played our hearts out and that’s what we got.”
In the process, the Bulldogs finished the season with 730 points, ranking fourth all-time in points scored in a season behind a trio of state champions: Demopolis in 2004, Elba in 2011 and Sweet Water in 2008. The Bulldogs’ 10 shutouts are tied for second-most all time behind 1996 state champion Clay County and the 47 points surrendered are the third fewest ever given up in a 15-game season.