Bulldogs poised to win it all after beating ACA, 43-31

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 3, 2005

Brantley running back Chris Booker had a dream Thursday night that was so startling that he couldn’t go back to sleep.

Booker said that the Bulldogs’ opponent, American Christian, hit a late field goal to go up by one point and go on to win the semifinal showdown to advance to the Super 6 in Birmingham next week.

&#8220Right then, I made a promise to myself that I would do anything (Friday night) to help us win this game,” Booker said.

Booker lived up to his promise by rushing for three touchdowns, hauling in two touchdown passes and making a key interception late in the first half to keep the Bulldogs ahead in the Class 1A semifinal and give Brantley a berth in the Class 1A final with a 43-31 victory over American Christian.

Brantley (13-1) will take on Addison in the 1A championship game at 3 p.m. Friday at Birmingham’s Legion Field.

The game was built up to be the Patriots’ offense led by senior quarterback Chris Smelley against a stingy Brantley defense.

Neither sides disappointed.

Smelley closed out his record-breaking senior campaign by completing 30-of-58 pass attempts for 574 yards and three touchdowns. Smelley also was intercepted three times, including one by Booker that kept momentum on Brantley’s side.

Leading 12-7 late in the first half, American Christian (13-1) began to pick apart the Bulldogs’ defense by running with no one in the backfield but Smelley.

It wasn’t long before the Patriots were inside Brantley’s red zone threatening to retake the lead before the half.

But a Smelley pass that landed in the arms of Jay Barnett eventually squirted into the open arms of Booker at the Brantley 1 yard line. Like so many times during the game, Booker shook just about every American Christian player out of his shoes to return the interception back to the Patriot 4 yard line before Smelley managed to make a touchdown-saving tackle.

&#8220That was a huge play for us,” Brantley coach David Lowery said. &#8220They had the momentum turning their way, and they were about to score again to go in up at the half. But we turned that into a field goal to increase our lead.”

The Bulldogs couldn’t find the end zone after the Booker interception, so Marcus Owens came on to kick a 20-yard field goal as time expired to give Brantley a 15-7 lead at intermission.

Booker scored his first of five touchdowns with 6:48 left in the first quarter following a 22-yard punt return. One the first play from scrimmage, he found room and rambled 41 yards for the score.

After ACA took its only lead of the game with on a 1-yard run by Rick Spybey with 4:18 left before the half, Bulldog running back James Pittman helped the Bulldogs reclaim the lead for good on a 2-yard burst with 1:13 left in the half.

Booker scored again early in the third quarter on a fourth-and-23 pass play from senior quarterback Edgar Walker. Booker snagged the ball for a 25-yard touchdown to put the Bulldogs up two touchdowns.

After an ACA field goal late in the third quarter, Booker struck again following another key kick-off return. On the first play, he found room off right tackle and sprinted 56 yards for the score to make it 29-10.

In most games this season a 19-point lead would seem safe, but not against Smelley and the Patriot offense.

&#8220I told our guys before the game that this would be a four-quarter game,” Lowery said. &#8220I knew we would have to play right down to the final horn to make sure we came out of here with a win.”

Booker’s final touchdown of the night came on another fourth-down play. Faced with fourth-and-7 at the ACA 23, Walker found Booker for the TD strike to keep a 19-point cushion midway through the final quarter.

He then tacked on a 45-yard run with 4:37 left to play.

&#8220He did a great job against us tonight,” ACA coach Stephen Hooks said. &#8220He’s one of the best backs in the state without a doubt and we knew that having played against him last year.”

This marked the third straight year that ACA and Brantley have met the playoffs. In the last two years, the games had been decided by a single point each time.