Tri-County falls to Riverfield in 4A finale
It looked to all the world like Tri-County Academy was going to get over the hump and capture that elusive state title Thursday night at the Brickyard on the campus of Jackson Academy.
The Rebels, considered underdogs to everyone outside of their own locker room, had just taken an early 6-0 lead over the undefeated Riverfield Academy Raiders in the 4A MAIS State Championship.
Then it all went South.
Riverfield rattled off 20 unanswered points and held off a late Rebel rally to snuff Tri-County's title hopes and escape Jackson with a 29-21 victory and the state title.
"The positive thing about this season is we had a lot of senior leadership," Tri-County coach Phillip Wasson said. "But on the same token, we had a lot of young kids playing."
And that, ultimately, was the Rebels' downfall.
It was Tri-County's seniors, most notably quarterback Cade Shepherd, receiver Jojo Jones and tailback Dillon Hendrick, that kept the Rebels in the game.
Hendrick rushed for 97 yards on 14 carries with one touchdown, Shepherd completed 9 of his 14 passes for 95 yards and added 82 yards on the ground with two rushing TDs and Jones brought in six catches for 52 yards, including some key third-down conversions.
As good as they were, it was all overshadowed by Riverfield's dynamic duo of brothers Hudson and Garrett Brakefield.
It was Hudson who erased the Rebels' early lead with a 55-yard run right up the middle, and Garrett ran in the two-point conversion to give Riverfield the 8-6 lead with 50 seconds left in the first quarter.
Two possessions later, Hudson Brakefield capped another march - this one a 13-play, 70-yard drive - with a five yard rushing score.
Three minutes later, Garrett Brakefield's 36-yard run ran the Riverfield lead to 20-6 with 3:57 to go in the first half.
The Rebels finally responded to the 20-0 Riverfield run with Hendrick's 10-yard rushing touchdown to cap a 7-play, 52-yard drive with 1:31 left in the second quarter, and Tri-County went into the halftime break facing a 20-14 deficit.
The Rebels (10-3) drove the field and regained the lead to start the second half when Cade Shepherd capped a 6-play, 50-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown dive.
But the final quarter belonged entirely to Riverfield.
Jackson Shelton's 30-yard field goal with 7:31 remaining gave the Raiders (13-0) the 23-21 lead, and Hudson Brakefield's 25-yard touchdown run with 1:05 to go put the game on ice.
Brakefield finished the night with 201 rushing yards on 25 attempts and three touchdowns.
"Hudson's played like that all year long," Riverfield coach Boyd Cole said. "He only knows one way to play, and that's bull-headed. He ain't a finesse runner. He doesn't try to be a finesse runner. That's what he does."
Garrett Brakefield added 60 yards on the ground with the one score and completed 3 of 5 pass attempts for 51 yards. One of those three passes, a 35-yard pass to Bailyn Sorensen, came on 1st-and-19 near midfield and extended the drive on which Riverfield took the lead for good.
Tri-County had opportunities to retake the lead in the fourth quarter. Trailing by just two points, the Rebels were forced to punt from midfield on one drive, then turned it over on downs when they couldn't convert a 4th-and-4 at the Riverfield 20-yard line with 1:58 left in the game.
Riverfield's final touchdown came just 53 seconds later.
There were some tears on the Tri-County sideline - understandable considering how close the Rebels came to capturing their first state title in nearly a decade - but Wasson said he was proud of the effort his guys put forward and looked forward to being back in this position in the coming years.
"We had six 10th graders starting on both sides of the ball tonight," Wasson said. "They're going to learn from this game and get better."
Here are the rest of the results from the MAIS State Championship games:
1A - Briarfield Academy 60, Prairie View Academy 36
2A - Manchester Academy 38, Marvell (Ark.) 6
3A - St. Joseph (Greenville) 55, Indianola Academy 24
5A - Heritage Academy 55, Starkville Academy 10