Lakeside alum has breakout year in CFL

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Former Lakeside High School football star Brian Bratton will compete for the Montreal Alouettes in tonight's Grey Cup against the Calgary Stampeders to determine the champion of the Canadian Football League.

The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Bratton caught 54 passes for 636 yards and seven touchdowns in 18 games this season -- a significant boost from his rookie season when he had 20 receptions for 199 yards and no touchdowns. His quarterback dubbed him the team's most underrated player, as he could step in to back up any of the club's three 1,000-yard receivers.

"If I fly under the radar, that doesn't bother me," Bratton told The Gazette of Montreal. "If I was a star on another team, I wouldn't be in this position (to win the Grey Cup)."

Bratton, 26, is expected to assume a bigger role next season with the Alouettes and says he loves playing in Montreal. The former Furman receiver is ready to step up, though he won't rule out exploring options in the NFL next season as a free agent.

"Do I feel like I could be a star?" he told the Montreal paper. "Yes. I'm a star in the making. This year, I was on the edge of stardom. It was my coming-out year. I've had my introduction this year. It was my time on stage."

The Grey Cup will be televised live tonight at 6 on Versus.

KEEP HOPE ALIVE: Georgia Tech still has a chance to win a conference that doesn't deserve to put a team in a BCS bowl game.

Losses by Virginia (to Clemson) and North Carolina (to North Carolina State) on Saturday were two of the essential dominos the Yellow Jackets needed to fall to win the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division.

It's not a great chance, however. The Jackets need a sub-.500 Virginia team to go into Blacksburg and beat archrival Virginia Tech next week. The Hokies have won eight of the past nine meetings and haven't lost to Virginia in Blacksburg since 1998.

That it's come to this says something about just how absurdly average the ACC is. If Maryland lost to Florida State on Saturday night, no team is without at least three conference losses. The conference should cede its guaranteed BCS seat to undefeated Ball State.

The Mid-American Conference is just as worthy as the middlin' ACC.

SECOND CLASS: Its dominant depth happens with such regularity that you take it for granted, but both the Southeastern Conference and the SEC East aren't the best in college football this season.

With the nosedive of Tennessee and the relatively mundane excellence of Georgia, the most difficult division in football was decided by October and the SEC East rates a distant second to the Big 12 South this season -- just as the SEC was replaced at the top by the Big 12.

With No. 2 Texas Tech, No. 4 Texas, No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 11 Oklahoma State in one six-team division, this probably ranks as the best division of all time since even the SEC East has never really presented that credible a fourth team this late in the season.

Of course, the SEC (and possibly the SEC East's Florida) will likely have a chance to get the last laugh in the BCS Championship Game. In a one-game showdown, never count out the SEC against anyone who survives the Big 12.

KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCKIN': Former Augusta State golfer and serial runner-up artist Oliver Wilson is threatening his maiden victory once again in Hong Kong.

Wilson, who has finished second eight times including five in the past year, takes a one-shot lead into today's final round of the Hong Kong Open.

He doesn't have the depth of talent chasing him as he did three weeks ago in China when Sergio Garcia caught him and won in a playoff, but grizzled veterans Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie are within striking distance on a course that can yield low scores.

"Like I keep saying, if I can keep getting up there, I'll break through eventually," Wilson told The Associated Press after his round Saturday.

"But each time I'm getting up there, I'm learning something. It's important (Sunday) to try not to think about winning."

Regardless of the outcome, Wilson has all but assured himself a berth in next year's Masters Tournament through the world rankings as he enters a six-week Christmas break.

A FINE FAREWELL: Perhaps the greatest women's golfer of any generation, Annika Sorenstam, said goodbye to the LPGA Tour prematurely on Friday, missing her first cut of the season in the ADT Championship.

What did she get as a parting gift? A tap on the shoulder and a specimen bottle to go fill with a urine sample.

For the second time in three weeks, the winner of 89 worldwide tournaments and 10 majors was ordered to a mandatory random drug test despite the fact that she is "stepping away" from the LPGA Tour.

It mixed a little bit of bitterness with her already heightened emotions and added one more misstep for a tour that earlier this year tried to force its players to learn English or be sanctioned.

"They're not going to let me go," a bewildered Sorenstam told reporters in Florida.

It's too bad she is leaving. The Tiger Woods of the ladies' circuit changed the parameters of women's golf with her competitiveness, fitness and respectable gender-crossing performance in the PGA Tour's 2003 Colonial. Her presence in the game will be sorely missed.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com


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