BRADENTON — The stadium at Braden River High School Friday night was a sea of black as students cheered loudly for their football team.
As the first quarter of the game between Braden River and St. Thomas Aquinas raged on, fans filled the bleachers, eyes focused on the field. Many students, non-students and adults got a closer look by standing behind the chainlink fence that borders the field.
Before the final score locked into a 27-10 loss for Braden River, many fans were extremely optimistic. But that optimism turned to heartbreak at the end of the night, even as fans said they were proud of this winning team.
Amber Spurlock, 17, and Cierra Dorsey, 17, both seniors at Braden River High, were among those watching the game with a tight circle of friends. Chatter — and very frequent cheers — roared around the group. The smell of cooked food permeated the area where Spurlock and Dorsey stood.
“It’s the last home game and, as a senior, it will probably be the last football game I attend so I just wanted to make it a good one,” Spurlock said.
Dorsey nodded in agreement with her friend.
“It’s a great environment to be a part of,” she added.
Nearby, Braden River High sophomores William O’Connor, 16, Colton Womeldorph, 15, and Chris McMullin, 15, talked amongst themselves as they peered over other peoples’ heads at the game before them.
O’Connor said they came to support their high school football team.
“I have a lot of friends on the team,” he pointed out.
Womeldorph said he and other students have to cheer their team on.
“I think they’re doing great,” he said. “I think they’re going to win tonight... they’re going to go on.”
Kayla Evans, a sophmore at Braden River High, said her school has the most school spirit.
Emani Smalls, also a sophomore at the school, said she’s proud to be part of the Pirate Nation.
“They’ve done a really good job this season,” the 15-year-old said. “I’m looking forward to what they have in the future for us.”
The mood in the stadium took a dramatic turn after the loss. For senior Briana Lutzi , the loss hurt greatly.
“It was extremely emotional for everyone, especially the seniors,” the 17-year-old Bradenton resident said. “We’ve come so far and now just being so close to winning the states, it was very emotional for all of us.”
In tears, Lutzi and her fellow seniors embraced one another.
“I cried. We all cried. All the seniors definitely did because we saw the team start from winning no games at all and this year we were undefeated,” she said. “It’s just been an incredible year.”
As part of student government, Lutzi said she and others work hard to hype up the games.
“It’s just insane. Our school spirit drives us so much,” she said. “We just love our school so much that it hit us really hard.”
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.