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Booker High football finishes the job

A comeback win over Braden River High could be a turning point for the program.

Booker senior receiver Joshua Burrows catches a ball behind the Braden River defense. Burrows would take the catch for a 60-yard touchdown.
Booker senior receiver Joshua Burrows catches a ball behind the Braden River defense. Burrows would take the catch for a 60-yard touchdown.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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Since taking over the Booker High football head coaching position prior to the 2022 season, Scottie Littles has preached for his team to finish games. 

Often, the Tornadoes have not listened, getting early leads thanks to their breadth of natural talent, then failing to hold onto them because of small mistakes. 

Maturity, discipline and attention to detail: those are the things the program has been lacking, Littles said. 

On Sept. 22, Booker finally showcased all three. 

The Tornadoes (3-2) faced Braden River High (2-2), a program annually in the playoff discussion and coached by Curt Bradley, someone well-respected in the area's football community for instilling in his team the same things Booker has lacked. 

Booker had lost five-straight meetings with the Pirates, its last win coming in 2013 — Bradley's second year at Braden River.  

Much of the game felt like a story Booker fans have seen play out. The Tornadoes took a 10-0 lead in the first half, then saw their fortunes change: by the start of the fourth quarter, Booker trailed 20-10. But unlike in the past, the Tornadoes did not continue the collapse. They fought back.

Booker made a change at quarterback, swapping junior Jordan Johnson in for junior Alex Diaz. It is something the Tornadoes have done all season to get both players time on the field. Against Braden River, it acted as a spark. Johnson completed six of his nine passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns, both to senior receiver Joshua Burrows — the second coming on a fourth-and-five from the Braden River 40-yard line with 6:15 remaining. The Pirates secondary got caught looking in the backfield and Burrows sneaked behind them; Johnson hit him in stride.

"I just trusted the kids," Booker Head Coach Scottie Littles said. "The coaches didn't want me to call a timeout (before the fourth down play) to save it for defense, but I knew we were going for it and I wanted the right play call. We condensed the formation and we had a guy sneak open. That's another (big) moment. Can we pay attention to detail and execute? In the past, we haven't. Tonight we did and that's encouraging."

Having regained the lead, the Tornadoes needed to hang onto it. Braden River attempted a last-minute drive down the field, converting two fourth downs of their own, but Booker did not get rattled. Eventually, the Tornadoes forced an incompletion on fourth and 10 from the 23-yard line to seal the win. Littles praised his defense's maturity and focus level on the final drive. 

Booker junior Jordan Radkey (55) and sophomore Jason Thomas (16) celebrate after a tackle for loss.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

The win was important for Booker in the immediate future. It gets the team's record above .500 before an upstart Bayshore High program (3-1) comes to town Sept. 29. But it may be more important in the long-term future. 

"This is usually a game that Braden River schedules to get a win, let's just be honest," Littles said. "At the end of the day, man, our kids fought hard and earned this win for our program. And I told them, tonight's about moving our program forward. We had that opportunity against Berkeley Prep (last week) and we didn't rise to the occasion. Tonight is about moving our program forward. We can compete with bigger schools in our area and be competitive."

A Booker program that plays under control could be a frightening one for future opponents, as the Tornadoes are beginning to fill their roster with NCAA-level talent. After senior running back Ahmad Hunter left the Braden River game with an injury — Littles said Hunter will be fine and that the removal was precautionary — the Tornadoes turned to junior Rashawn Peterson, who normally plays wide receiver and holds offers from Florida State University, Penn State University and Duke University among other schools. All Peterson did, playing out of position, was take 13 carries for 90 yards (6.9 yards per carry). And before he was switched out for Jordan Johnson, Alex Diaz threw a 30-yard touchdown to senior receiver Josiah Booker, who holds offers from Duke, Coastal Carolina University and Purdue University among other schools. 

The team's defense is no different. Sophomore safety Karaijus Hayes, who had an interception against Braden River, has an offer from the University of Miami. So does sophomore Kevontay Hugan, who had five tackles (two tackles for loss) against the Pirates. 

Of the team's five remaining games, four should present challenges. The first, district opponent Bayshore, has junior running back Jaden Judge, who is responsible for 17 touchdowns through four games, scored in a variety of ways. Then, a game against DeSoto County High (0-4) is followed by games against Wiregrass Ranch High (3-1) and Lemon Bay High (5-0), both of whom will test the Tornadoes. They will finish their regular season against Lakewood Ranch High (2-3), a Class 4S school who will provide another chance for Booker to prove it can compete with bigger opponents. 

Littles believes the time for the Tornadoes is now. 

"We rose to the occasion (against Braden River)," Littles said. "That means we're doing it. We're going in the right direction." 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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