Braden River is 0-2 for the first time since 2012.
The last time the Braden River football team started 0-2 was 2012.
So it's been a while since they have felt like they do this week.
The Pirates lost 35-28 at home to Riverview High (1-1) on Aug. 30. It was a flipped experience from the first week. Braden River’s offense was strong against a good defense, while the Pirates’ own defense, stout in the opener, missed tackle after tackle.
It is not hard to see how the team got here. Programs replace players every offseason, and Pirates coach Curt Bradley has historically done a great job of reloading instead of rebuilding. But having to replace 31 seniors is a tough task for anyone. With inexperience comes mistakes, and the young Pirates are having to learn in real time. Good teams like Largo High (2-0) and Riverview will take advantage of that.
“The more guys play, the more experience they get,” Bradley said. “It’s not like we have a huge group of experienced guys we can lean on. This may be a year where we just focus on winning the district. We have a tough schedule. We will see where we are at (later in the year). I obviously have a lot of faith in these young men that we will be where we want to be.”
Bradley’s right, the season has a long way to go. No team wants to start 0-2, but there are silver linings. The first is that neither loss was a district game. Remember, winning a district is an automatic ticket to the playoffs, no matter a team’s overall record. The Pirates’ first such game is Sept. 6 when they will hit the road against Manatee High (0-2).
The other bit of good news is how close both games were against opponents that will likely reach the postseason themselves. Braden River had a chance to beat Largo late but missed a fourth-down conversion inside the 10-yard line, and the Riverview game came down to allowing one too many big plays. Thus far, it is not one talent-deficient unit dragging down this team. It is a lack of consistency. That will come with time. Once it does, results should come.
Want more positive thoughts? Look no further than the Pirates’ last opponent. Riverview was 1-2 to start last season in non-division games, before going on a tear. The Rams finished the regular season 7-3 and won their division. In the playoffs, the hot streak continued. Riverview reached the state semifinals for the first time in 14 seasons before losing 45-31 to eventual champion Mandarin High.
All is not lost, in other words. If anyone can get this team back on the winning path, it is Bradley and offensive coordinator Eric Sanders. And even if the 2019 season is not up to program standards, there are players worth the price of admission.
Junior cornerback Gregory Cotton, a transfer from Palmetto, is electric. Against Largo, Cotton had a 32-yard interception return and 76 kickoff return yards on just two attempts. He didn’t have an interception against Riverview, but he shut down his side of the field.
Junior quarterback Shawqi Itraish shook off the first-start jitters from the opener and played great against Riverview, completing 21 of 36 passes for 274 yards. Senior wideout Robbie Goecker caught eight of those passes for 130 yards.
These guys eventually will prove they are good. They should beat Manatee in the district opener.
But no matter their record, it's apparent 2019 will a season more about development than wins.