Braden River coach confident his team will bounce back from 4-7 season.
Although Braden River High's football season ended at 4-7 with losses in its final two games, the Pirates might just have gained some momentum going into 2020.
Those final two losses were a 30-28 home loss to powerful Clearwater Academy International (8-2) on Nov. 1 and a 24-21 road playoff loss to a 10-1 Palmetto High team Nov. 8.
Momentum might be considered a strange word since the Pirates gave up leads in the fourth quarters of both those games.
Nevertheless, Braden River proved it made considerable strides over the course of the season.
After the Palmetto loss, Pirates coach Curt Bradley challenged his returning players to flip the script. The team lost five games by eight points or less. If the returnees can prevail in those close games next year, he said, then the team is primed for another successful season.
Bradley believes they will. The final two losses cut deep, but they also showed the progress Bradley wanted to see. The Pirates lost by 24 points (27-3) the first time they played Palmetto on Sept. 27.
The Pirates will return their entire starting offensive and defensive lines, a fact that Bradley called absurd because of its rarity in high school football.
"You win and lose games up front, plain and simple," Bradley said after the Palmetto game. "High school, college or NFL, it does not matter. Games are decided in the trenches. We are going to hit the weight room and we will be much stronger next year. We have been through a lot of battles now, so we will be more experienced as well."
They will also return junior quarterback Shawqi Itraish, who ended the regular season with 2,356 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and three interceptions. Bradley said Itraish improved as a vocal leader and a decision-maker.
Bradley said the learning experience of 2019 will be a necessary part of their growing process next season. He thanked his 14-man senior class for fighting to the end, despite the circumstances.
“They are a class we are going to look back on and be incredibly thankful for,” Bradley said after the Clearwater Academy International game. “We are going to have some good teams here in the next few years, and this senior class is the class that bridged the gap. They united this team. For a while, we built this program in a fashion where it was all about the team. Then, for a few years, it got fractured, and we went through some turmoil. This senior class got the program back to what it was and where we want it to be in the future.”
Senior wide receiver Robbie Goecker, who against Palmetto caught a touchdown catch and threw a touchdown pass on a trick play, said he would never forget his time at Braden River.
"It has meant so much (to play for Braden River)," Goecker said. "These coaches and players have supported me the whole time. I would not trade it for anything else. These have been the best four years of my life. I appreciate everything that the people at Braden River have done for me.
"I am going to remember all the Friday nights and all the practices. Just having fun with all my friends out here."