Pirates need win over Palmetto to enhance playoff hopes.
The end was not as enjoyable as the beginning.
But Braden River's 25-game, regular-season win streak did end on Oct. 14 with the Venice crowd, drenched in green and grey, screaming until hoarse. The Pirates will remember a home-crowd, celebratory cannon sending clouds of smoke over the Braden River sideline after Venice's 42-35 victory.
It was an odd offensive shoot-out considering the Pirates have had enjoyed such ferocious defensive line play, led by junior defensive ends Taylor Upshaw and Chase Knopf and senior nose guard Deqwunn McCobb. They have been the big reason Braden River had given up an average of 5.6 points a game going into the Venice showdown.
Then came Indians’ senior running back Matt “Speedy” Laroche. The Pirates couldn’t touch him, or tackle him. Laroche broke off long runs and finished with 325 yards and five touchdowns.
What went wrong?
“Obviously, you’re never expecting anything like that to happen,” Braden River coach Curt Bradley said. “We just didn’t make many tackles. We miss one tackle and it turns into 80 yards.”
Upshaw voiced similar observations after the game, and added that the line had some mental errors that need to be fixed.
“Going in the wrong gap,” Upshaw said. “I went in the wrong gap on one, which led to a big run. Just knowing where to go. That was our biggest mistake."
It's a mistake Upshaw said won't be repeated.
“We’re tough," he said. "That’s our asset, we’re tough. When we come back, we’re going to do the same thing: Go hard no matter what happens.”
Bradley said his players found some things they can do schematically to make sure the previous game's mistakes are a thing of the past. He didn't go into specifics, but made it clear he is an ardent believer in his players.
“They fought,” Bradley said. “They could have laid down and died. They made it a close game at the end, we just came up a little short.
“We just have to be more physical and have a better presence up front.”
The Pirates certainly have that presence. Upshaw and McCobb are towering figures, standing at 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-3, respectively. Even though some of their teammates, including the 5-foot-11 Knopf, are undersized, they play with heart.
The threesome all have different methods of wreaking havoc. Knopf’s favorite move off the line is using his quickness to get upfield, then spinning inside to knock the offensive tackle off-balance while he pounces on the ball carrier. Upshaw, who is being recruited by Florida State, Clemson and Stanford, prefers a clean and simple speed rip.
McCobb said his favorite is the club and rip.
“It shows power and authority,” McCobb said.
Knopf transferred to Braden River from Palmetto before his sophomore season. Instead of finding himself on the outside of an established group, Knopf found what he called a brotherhood with the Pirates and immediately clicked with his fellow linemen.
Now, Knopf will sometimes pick up McCobb and give him a ride to practice. There’s a fantasy football league and everyone argues that he obviously has the most talented team. The group has good chemistry as a whole, a clear asset in a sport where communication is key.
Perhaps most importantly, they’ve lifted themselves out of the doldrums before.
Following the St. Thomas Aquinas loss on Dec. 4, 2015, which ended last year’s bid at an undefeated campaign, the team wasted no time in picking itself up and getting ready for the new season. Knopf said he was in the weight room the next day. The Pirates had longer to heal then, but the things they need to do now remain the same. Reset, tweak the scheme, memorize assignments, focus.
Their coach knows they’ll come back with as much intensity as ever.
“No motivation needed,” Bradley said. “This is win or go home. If we don’t win this one (against Palmetto), the season’s pretty much over, as far as playoffs are concerned.”
Before the Venice game, Knopf said one of the coaching staff’s mottos is “bend, but don’t break.”
The Pirates left Venice feeling a bit broken. Now, it’s time to see if McCobb, Knopf and Upshaw can help them rebuild.