The Pirates held off the Raiders 28-23
The Braden River football team (9-2) needed both its offense and defense to be at the top of their game during its road game against Plant City High (9-2) in the Florida High School Athletic Association regional quarterfinals.
The Pirates saw their wish fulfilled — on and off, anyway. The Pirates defense stifled the Raiders offense for three quarters, long enough for the Pirates offense to establish a lead, despite a few hiccups, and the lead turned out to be just enough. Braden River defeated Plant City 28-23, thanks in no small part to the Pirates defense getting a fourth and one stop with just over a minute to go and the Raiders driving for the winning score.
Before all that happened, the Pirates offense came out firing. The team scored on its first possession in the form of a rushing touchdown from junior Brian Battie. It was the first of many big plays — both good and bad — from Battie. On the next Pirates possession, which stemmed from the Raider missing another fourth and one, this one on their own side of the field, Battie fumbled inside the red zone. The possession after, Pirates senior quarterback Bryan Gagg would also fumble in the red zone while attempting to scramble. The possession after that, Battie fumbled again, this time near midfield.
Battie said he kept thinking about the fumbles on the bench, and that he was determined to prove to his teammates he had their backs, and was not going to let them down. He proved himself and then some, first with a 60-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, then a 27-yard touchdown in the third.
But he saved the best for last. After leading comfortably through the first three quarters, Plant City cut the lead to 21-16 with just over four minutes to go on a punt return touchdown. To make matters worse, Braden River initially muffed the ensuing kickoff and had to start its next possession from its own four.
Field position did not matter to Battie. The first play, he took the handoff straight through the teeth of the Raider defense 96 yards for the score. The touchdown sent the Pirates sideline into a frenzy. Plant City would respond with another touchdown, but it was for naught. There was only time for one Raiders offensive drive after that, and it ended in the aforementioned fourth and one stop.
Battie would finish with 365 yards and those four touchdowns on 41 carries. He was the focal point of the offense with senior receiver/running back Knowledge McDaniel deemed ineligible for the playoffs. Gagg completed seven of 15 passes for 81 yards through the air.
Pirates coach Curt Bradley called Battie "phenomenal" and said he was proud of the way his defense played for the first 40 minutes before it made some "uncharacteristic mistakes." Braden River forced Plant City into three total turnovers on downs, and senior cornerback Mark Davis added a red zone interception.
Braden River will next have a road rematch with rival Venice High (10-1) in the regional semifinals at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 16. It will be the eighth meeting between the Pirates and Indians in the last four seasons. The Pirates are 2-5 in the previous seven match-ups, and have lost five in a row. Venice defeated Tampa Bay Tech (7-4) 59-23 on Friday.