BRADEN RIVER — Last Friday’s game between Braden River and Lakewood Ranch had almost everything a big rivalry game requires.
Thousands of face-painted fans screaming from either side of the field? Check. Loud and proud marching bands blasting music at each other? Check. Hard hits and plenty of smack talk? Check.
Indeed, the game exemplified everything a good rivalry game should be — save for the actual game.
Another year, another rout. Braden River pounded their East County foes 43-14 to take a 3-0 lead in the series.
And although the Pirates may be puffing out their chests just a little more this week after humiliating the Mustangs, on the field, they employed a focus-on-ourselves mentality that really didn’t take into account their East County rivals. It’s a new approach that Braden River started in the spring and one the Pirates are hoping will carry them all the way to a state title.
“I thought we played 48 minutes, and that’s been on our minds all year,” Braden River coach Ed Volz said. “Going into this week we said, ‘It’s us versus 48 minutes,’ and that needs to be who we are all year. It can’t be about who is on the other sideline. It has to be all about us, and if we play our best it’ll either be good enough or not.”
Following the game, the players celebrated together under the scoreboard. And finally, they allowed the hype surrounding the game to overcome their focus.
“We’ve beat them three years in a row now since we’ve been a varsity program, so it means a lot,” senior running back Tevin Bryant said.
In addition to the perfect series record, the Pirates also have dominated each game, outscoring Lakewood 77-26 in the three contests.
“We’re real excited to get started like this,” Volz said. “This is a big rivalry. It means a lot to this community and to these kids, so we’re excited.”
Braden River took control of the game early in the first quarter when sophomore defensive lineman Nicholas Murphy recovered a fumble by Lakewood senior running back Michael Myers inside the red zone. Three plays later Bryant scored from a yard out to give the Pirates the early lead.
The Pirates extended their lead when senior quarterback Stephen Fischer reached the end zone on a 1-yard quarterback keeper after Lakewood senior quarterback Reggie Lindsey was intercepted by senior defensive back Mick Olitsky to start the second quarter.
The Mustangs responded on their next possession when Lindsey connected with senior wide receiver Octavious Washington for a 42-yard touchdown. Braden River scored 14 unanswered points to take a 29-7 lead into halftime behind a lights out defensive effort by the Pirates.
Bryant, who rushed for 129 yards on 21 carries, found the end zone four times on the night, including on a 6-yard screen pass from quarterback Stephen Fischer, who threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another.
“I felt good and relaxed and the line was blocking really well today,” Bryant said.
The play of the offensive line ultimately proved to be a difference-maker for both teams. Braden River and Lakewood both have entirely new offensive lines this year characterized by youth and inexperience, particularly on the Mustangs’ side of the ball as their line features four players who had never started a varsity game before.
While Braden River was able to control the line of scrimmage, the Mustangs struggled against a dominant Pirates defense. Lakewood’s inexperience on the offensive front coupled with three turnovers, a safety and 10 penalties proved to be too much for the Mustangs to overcome.
“The two turnovers in the first quarter in the red zone kill you — you just lose all momentum,” Lakewood coach Shawn Trent said. “Our offensive line is young. We had some blown assignments and some mistakes and penalties. You kind of expect that with some young kids, but you don’t expect as many as came tonight.”
With their rivalry game behind them, Braden River and Lakewood must now turn their attention to this week’s opponents — both of which should prove to be stiff competition for the two East County squads.
Lakewood will play host to Southeast, which is coming off a 20-3 victory over Palmetto. The Seminoles, expected to vie for the district title along with Braden River, held the Tigers to about 100 yards of total offense and forced a pair of turnovers.
If the Mustangs are going to contend with the Seminoles, they’ll need a solid game from their offensive line, which struggled to contain the Braden River defense. Additionally, Lakewood will rely heavily on Lindsey’s speed and arm strength to try and keep Southeast guessing.
Meanwhile, Braden River will travel to Venice for the second year in a row. Last season, the Pirates fell to the Class 5A-District 11 Champion Indians 31-17. Braden River will need another strong performance from Fischer, who threw for 133 yards and a pair of touchdowns last year against the Indians, if the Pirates are going to extend their winning streak.
Additionally, the Pirates will need another solid rushing game from Bryant, who had just one carry for two yards in last year’s contest. But more than anything else Braden River will be focused on playing a solid 48 minutes of football rather than the caliber of the opposing sideline.
“We can’t worry about the Venice program,” Volz said. “If we are our best, then we will find out whether we’re good enough to play with a program of that kind of history and that kind of tradition.
“It’s about us,” he added. “It’s not about the opponent. If we do what we do we’re either good enough or we’re not and that’s all we can worry about.”
Kickoff for both games is set for 7:30 p.m.
Contact Jen Blanco at
BR 6 23 7 7 — 43
LR 0 7 0 7 — 14
BR — Tevin Bryant 1 run (Kadin Kerns kick failed), 9:45
BR — Stephen Fischer 1 run (Kerns kick), 10:48
LR — Octavious Washington 42 pass from Reggie Lindsey (Seth Browning kick), 8:24
BR — Bryant 8 run (Kerns kick), 7:00
BR — Safety (Lindsey tackled in end zone), 4:31
BR — Bryant 4 run (Kerns kick), 0:49
BR — Bryant 6 pass from Fischer (Kerns kick), 10:28
BR — Mark McKoan 24 pass from Fischer (Kerns kick), 4:58
LR — Michael Myers 3 run (Browning kick), 3:43
First Downs 13 11
Rushes-yards 28-100 29-169
Passing yards 155 55
Comp-Att-Int 11-20-1 6-9-0
Fumbles-lost 3-2 1-0
Penalties-yards 10-70 5-30
Rushing — Lakewood Ranch: Myers 11-60, Lindsey 6-20, Taryn Laws 10-17, Damen Gilbert 1-3. Braden River: Bryant 21-129, Ryan Fischer 1-30, S. Fischer 3-15, Jaredd Pate 4-(minus 5).
Passing — Lakewood Ranch: Lindsey 11-20-155-1. Braden River: S. Fischer 6-9-55-0.
Receiving — Lakewood Ranch: Washington 5-83, Jake Carlton 3-48, Daniel Clifford 2-18, Laws 1-6. Braden River: Mark McKoan 1-24, Bryant 2-21, Sharrod Neasman-Glover 3-10.
For photos of Lakewood Ranch's fans, click here.
For photos of Braden River's fans, click here.