EAST MANATEE -- As Jacob Huesman's heave sailed over Jaylin Austin's head and into the waiting arms of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas' Frank Coppet about midway through the fourth quarter of Friday's Class 7A state semifinal, the electric atmosphere created by the "black out" home stands was hushed to a murmur and sent several fans exiting the boisterous Pirate Stadium.
On this night, the unbeaten Braden River Pirates saw their magical season come to a screeching halt.
Aquinas, meanwhile, left East Manatee County with a 27-10 victory and a chance to defend its 7A state title in next week's championship against Melbourne Viera, a 42-23 winner over Lake City Columbia in the other semifinal.
"That's not even a season, that's four years," Braden River head coach Curt Bradley said. "Go from 1-9 to what these young men did over the
course of four years, it's hard to see that. But I'm so proud of those young men. This school was not a football school. And to see what it was (Friday), did we come up short? Yes, but it was a special, special ride. And unfortunately, it had to end."
The Pirates (13-1) hung with the Raiders (12-1) right from the outset.
Receiving the ball to begin the game, Braden River marched down the field in nine plays as Dexter Hodo and Deshaun Fenwick powered the running attack, while Huesman diced up the Raiders' secondary with a capping 7-yard touchdown pass to Travis Williams.
Aquinas, though, answered less than three minutes later with Florida-bound quarterback Jake Allen connecting to Trevon Grimes for the equalizing touchdown, a 5-yard bubble screen.
The Raiders also scored on their next possession, when Dominic Thieman caught a 13-yard pass from Allen early in the second quarter.
That gave Aquinas its first lead at 14-10, as Braden River was held to a field goal on its second possession. That drive was halted shy of the end zone when Williams caught a pass and picked up a first down, but was ruled to be lined up in an illegal formation.
"Our receiver said he was on the line and it would have been a first-and-goal," Braden River offensive coordinator Eric Sanders said. "Instead, we had to settle for a field goal. If we go up 14-7 there, yeah, it's definitely big. Once we got behind, they kind of fed off the momentum and kept it rolling."
James Charles, one of two options out of Aquinas' backfield, plunged in a 1-yard touchdown with 20.8 seconds remaining in the first half to bring the Raiders into intermission holding a 21-10 advantage.
That scoring drive was one of three times Aquinas capitalized on a Braden River turnover for points.
Uncharacteristically, the Pirates lost one fumble, had two interceptions thrown and turned it over two other times on downs -- once by running a fake punt that was stopped.
"We knew going in we had to play a clean game, couldn't turn it over, (and) every time we tried to make a big play or a chunk play, something bad happened," Sanders said.
In addition to the turnovers, a key game-changer came with Aquinas holding a 21-10 lead and looking to pad it with another rumble to pay dirt.
With 10:13 remaining in the fourth quarter, Charles lost the ball on a running play from the Pirates' 3 and it fell to Braden River senior linebacker Noah Arce.
Arce started running the ball back for a scoop-and-score as no whistle came. However, the play was blown dead and the officials conferred. Eventually, they decided the ball went to the Pirates, but was dead where Charles lost it.
"We should have had a touchdown in my opinion," Bradley said. "If we end up with the football, why did we not score a touchdown? He wasn't down. In my opinion, we're sitting there looking at 21-17 at that point and it's a ballgame. But St. Thomas Aquinas played a good football game and we didn't play a good enough to win. It's not putting it on the officials, but 21-17, that would have been a heck of a different ballgame."
Braden River, though, stalled out with a Huesman interception to Aquinas' Asante Samuel.
Braden River also lost linebacker Ronnie McClellan and defensive end Chase Knopf to injuries in the game.
Knopf was stretchered off the field, but gave a thumbs up as he was carted away.
Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas 27, Braden River 10
Aquinas 7 14 0 6--27
Braden River 10 0 0 0--10
BR--Travis Williams 7 pass from Jacob Huesman (Kyle Thoma kick), 8:11
STA--Trevon Grimes 5 pass from Jake Allen (James McCourt kick), 5:34
STA--Dominic Thieman 13 pass from Allen (McCourt kick), 10:59
STA--James Charles 1 run (McCourt kick), 0:20.8
STA--McCourt 30 field goal, 5:24
STA--McCourt 27 field goal, 2:10
RUSHING--Aquinas 36-116: Jaxson Kincaide 17-89, Charles 12-28, Allen 3-(-12), Sam Bruce 2-8, Michael Irvin Jr. 1-3. Braden River 35-96: Hodo 16-60, Fenwick 11-48, Austin 2-12, Huesman 5-(-25), Ryan Neuzil 1-1.
PASSING--Aquinas 15-22-1, 215: Allen 15-22-1, 215. Braden River 16-27-2, 123: Huesman 16-27-2, 123.
RECEIVING-- Aquinas 15-215: Grimes 6-60, Jonathan Moore 1-52, Thieman 3-32, Michael Harley 1-11, Connor Cullins 1-24, Bruce 1-2, Irvin Jr. 2-34. Braden River 16-123: Hodo 5-50, Williams 3-23, Juwaan Jenkins 2-7, Neuzil 4-32, Jaylin Austin 2-11.