EAST MANATEE -- Big plays early, a suffocating defense and a close call on a late onside kick sent Port Charlotte to a 29-14 win in the annual "Pirate Bowl" on Friday night in Braden River's homecoming game.
Braden River (0-5) missed an opportunity to get on the board early in the first quarter when Port Charlotte's Marlin Pierre fumbled a punt at his own 30-yard line. Two plays later, Pierre more than made up for his mistake when he picked off an Eric Schappacher pass at the Port Charlotte 21. Port Charlotte moved down the field and capped off the 12-play, 79-yard drive when Traige McClary, throwing off his back foot, hit Erik Heitter for a 12-yard scoring pass.
Another Port Charlotte miscue on special teams gave Braden River the ball on the Port Charlotte 30 early in the second quarter. Austin River made Port Charlotte pay when he went through the left side of the line and scored on the first play of the drive. Port Charlotte didn't wait long to respond, needing only four plays on its next drive to get back into the end zone. On a second-down play, McClary found a streaking Paulsin Heitter down the right sideline in stride for a 49-yard scoring strike.
Port Charlotte continued with their big plays on the next drive. With about three minutes left in the half, Teddy Spikes took the ball on an end-around, zig-zagged his way through the Braden River defense and got one last punishing block to set him free for a 47-yard touchdown run.
As rain began falling in the second half, Braden River fought its way back into contention late. A long, methodical drive ended with Schappacher hitting Justin Ross in the corner of the end zone in heavy traffic, bringing Braden River within eight points with a little less than five minutes to go in the game. Braden River's Damon Golden recovered the onside kick, but officials ruled the ball was touched before it went 10 yards by the kicking team, giving Port Charlotte the ball.
"We had a chance to get the ball back and a chance to tie the game, but we couldn't get the call to go our way on that surprise onside kick," Braden River head coach Curt Bradley said about the game's decisive play. "We put ourselves in the hole in the first half and tried to dig ourselves out of it in the second half, but we just came up short."
James Romulus put an exclamation point on the win with a 49-yard touchdown run on the first play after the kick.
"We had to overcome a lot of adversity this week," said Port Charlotte head coach Jordan Ingman, whose team improved to 4-1. "We've had some injuries that the kids have fought through. We had our moments -- good and bad -- on both sides of the ball. We'll work on it, but it's nice to be able to work on it with a win."