This story was updated with more information at 10:55 a.m. on Nov. 19.
NASHVILLE — In order to earn the right to make the six-mile trip to Finley Stadium to play for the TSSAA Division II-AAA state championship, Baylor first had to stop Brentwood Academy from covering the final 15 yards to the end zone.
The Red Raiders' defense — specifically defensive backs Joshua Hampton and Dylan Crawford — managed to do that, but only by the narrowest of margins. Eagles receiver Meyer Pereira caught a pass at the Baylor 5-yard line, and after colliding with Crawford and Hampton at the 2, he fell just inches shy of the goal line on the final play to give the Red Raiders a dramatic 44-39 semifinal win Friday night at Carlton Flatt Field.
"They had multiple receivers on my side, so I had to pick which one to go to," Hampton said. "I peeled off to where the ball was thrown and knew it was the play of the game and I had to make a stop.
"I saw him duck his head, so I ducked my head and just tried to keep him from getting in. I got up and immediately started looking around to see what the ref was going to signal, whether he had gotten in or was down. When I saw them mark the ball short, it was the greatest feeling I've ever had."
It was Baylor's first playoff win over Brentwood Academy, which had won the previous four postseason meetings, including a pair of semifinal matchups. The second-ranked Red Raiders (10-2) advance to face top-ranked Montgomery Bell Academy (12-0) for the title in the BlueCross Bowl at 7 p.m. on Dec. 1 at Finley Stadium.
Baylor and Brentwood Academy traded the lead twice in the final 1:46, as the Eagles covered 71 yards in 11 plays to take a one-point lead on Richard Griffin's 7-yard touchdown run, but Baylor answered with a quick scoring drive of its own, capped by Whit Muschamp's 14-yard pass to Max Leblanc with just 25 seconds remaining.
"I just wanted to look for one of our best receivers and throw it up to give him a chance," said Muschamp, who completed 24 of 34 attempts for 464 yards and five touchdowns. "We knew coming in that it would be a four-quarter battle, so we just had to find a way to keep making plays."
After the Eagles (9-3) returned the ensuing kickoff 59 yards to the Baylor 31, they immediately took a shot at the end zone, but the pass was batted away by Evan Haynie. Two plays later, the effort by senior Crawford and junior Hampton sealed the win.
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.