BRADEN RIVER — The past is nothing more than a distant memory.
Nine weeks of ups and downs, injuries and disappointment were all but forgotten, as reality finally began to set in.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock Friday, Nov. 9, smiles and exuberant emotion that had been absent for most of the season finally re-emerged.
The Braden River High football team had finally done what it had set out to do all season long — land itself in the win column.
The Pirates notched their first win of the season with a 28-7 victory over Naples Palmetto Ridge on Senior Night.
“As a part of this team, this win did it all for us,” senior running back Austin Rain says. “It erased all the bad and all the talk about us and everything that’s gone wrong this season. We conquered it, and we came out on top. Every guy out here deserves it. We’ve been giving it our all all season, and these kids deserve it.
“It’s been great,” Rain says. “The whole season I’ve been battling injuries. This win meant everything for us and it meant everything for me. It’s a great feeling.”
Braden River always believed it was capable of winning a football game this season. It was just a matter of time. So, when Palmetto Ridge, who also saw its fair share of disappointment this season, having lost its last seven games, traveled to Pirates Stadium for the season finale for both teams, the Pirates believed it would finally be their night.
“Words can’t even describe it,” senior Zac D’Urso says. “It’s my senior year, and we wanted (a win) so bad. We worked so hard and just couldn’t get it. We finally got the opportunity. Both teams were struggling and we saw the opportunity and we took it.
“There’s no words (to describe it),” D’Urso says. “It felt great to score, but it felt even better to win. There’s no feeling to describe on Senior Night how I can contribute.”
The Pirates took control midway through the first quarter, when quarterback Dusty Peebles connected with Justin Ross for a 23-yard touchdown.
Braden River extended its lead on a 32-yard touchdown from Peebles to D’Urso with 7:18 remaining in the first half.
Palmetto Ridge responded with a touchdown on its ensuing drive to cut the Pirates lead to 14-7.
Braden River added another touchdown with 33.9 seconds remaining in the first half when Peebles connected with Ross for a 41-yard strike.
Rain scored from 4 yards out with 2:09 remaining in the fourth quarter to seal the victory for the Pirates.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say it felt pretty good,” first-year coach Curt Bradley says. “It feels good to see kids showing their emotion and getting to see smiles that you haven’t seen in awhile. They deserve it. You kind of forget about the first nine when you go out like that. It’s a good feeling and the kids deserve it. It’s a good feeling for everybody.
“(We’ve had) more downs than ups in the win/loss column, but, at the same time, I couldn’t ask more for me than guys who didn’t quit,” Bradley says. “It would’ve been so easy for them just to quit and call it a season and just ride it out. But they fought the good fight and they persevered and they endured. They were resilient, and that’s all you can ask from a group of kids.”
With the win, Braden River finished the season 1-9 and has something to build upon as it heads into the offseason. Nineteen seniors played their final game in a Pirates uniform, including Rain, who rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown and D’Urso hauled in two catches for 60 yards and a touchdown.
“We’re very young, and it’s good for them to get a taste of it, too,” Bradley says. “And, now, we have something to kind of springboard us into our off-season program. They can look at scoreboards like this for motivation, and it lets them know there is light at the end of this tunnel if you keep working hard and doing things the right way.”
Click here to view more photos from Braden River's final game of the season.