EAST MANATEE -- Chad Rex might need to shorten his name.
The Lakewood Ranch quarterback could just be called the X-factor for the show he put on Friday night in leading his Mustangs to a 42-31 victory over host Braden River in the Class 7A-District 10 opener for both teams.
Close to 7,000 fans jammed the Pirates' field, and they got their money's worth in a back-and-forth battle that Ranch (2-2) managed to survive thanks to the arm and legs of the junior quarterback.
After blowing a 21-7 first-half lead and trailing 31-28 late in the third quarter, Lakewood Ranch rode the heroics of its quarterback.
Rex connected on a 67-yard pass to Justin Fischer to give the Mustangs a first down on the Braden River 6. Wyatt McLeod took it from there and added a two-point conversion to put the Mustangs up 36-31 with 8:11 left in the game.
Braden River was staging another comeback when Wanley Desir broke through the Pirates' offensive line and stripped quarterback Dusty Peebles.
On the ensuing possession, Rex ran the ball five out of seven snaps and broke free for a 30-yard run to account for the game's final score with 2:50 left.
It was the fourth straight victory for Lakewood Ranch over Braden River, which now leads the series 4-3. But this was a district game,
Rex finished with 118 yards rushing on 21 carries and two touchdowns, including a 15-yarder where he reversed field. He threw for 201 yards, including a 54 yard touchdown strike that Cameron Pearcey made adiving catch on.
After the game, Rex said he was disappointed in his performance.
"I didn't do some things well. I fumbled on the 20-yard line and it was all on me, and there were some plays I read wrong. I need to get rid of it quicker," Rex said. "On the 15-yard run they were manning and double covered my inside receiver. When I was rolling out I saw their whole defense pursing me so I just reversed field and outran them."
Rex was one of many standouts on both teams.
Braden River scored first on a 26-yard pass from Peebles to Lou Ziebell. Rex answered with his 15-yard TD run and touchdown pass to Pearcey,
Braden River was driving for a touchdown when Craig Bain picked off a Peebles pass and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown with 50 seconds left before halftime. The Pirates regrouped quickly and got a 27-yard field goal to trail 21-10 at halftime.
Braden River came alive in the third quarter. The Pirates got on the board on their first possession of the third period with a 31-yard scoring strike from Peebles to Andre Mays. They forced a Rex fumble and two plays later Rex hit Justin Rawlings from 18 yards out to take a 24-21 lead.
"Last year we would've folded and it would've been a blowout," Braden River head coach Curt Bradley said. "We fought and took the lead and just ran out of gas. We got to be able to run the ball to keep them honest and we were not able to do that. I feel bad for the kids they fought so hard. But this is program is moving in the right direction,"
Lakewood Ranch answered Rawlings' touchdown quickly with Justin Fischer breaking loose for a 51 yard touchdown run to give the Mustangs a 28-24 lead,
Braden River kept its drive alive on its next possession on a fake punt and Peebles eventually took it in from one yard out to put the Pirates back up 31-28.
Lakewood Ranch started four sophomores on its offensive line, which created some chaotic moments,
"It's not exactly a recipe for my long lasting existence," Lakewood Ranch head coach Shawn Trent said. "Stopping the run was big for us, and we had some DBs make some big plays. "
Fischer also went over the century mark with 123 yards rushing, including 96 in the second half. Pearcey had five catches for 78 yards. Mays led all receivers with 134 reception yards. Peebles threw for 332 yards.