Matthew Haftke said he pictured it before it happened.
The onside kick squirted around, and the Braden River senior linebacker emerged from the scrum with the ball. The visiting fans that stuck until the end erupted as the Pirates received new life in the back-and-forth. Haftke felt it, too.
“Our stands were still here; they didn’t want to leave,” Haftke said. “We all felt it. We all felt that vibe.”
But on Friday at Powell-Davis Stadium in Venice, the Pirates’ last-gasp effort came up short as the Indians escaped with a 42-35 victory. The loss snapped Braden River’s regular-season win streak at 25 and put the Pirates in a must-win game next week at Palmetto in Class 7A-District 11.
“The playoffs started early for us this year,” Braden River head coach Curt Bradley said. “Every game is a playoff game for us from this point forward.”
Battling early nerves, Braden River (5-1, 3-1) fell behind 14-0. The Pirates struggled to contain Venice running back Matt Laroche from the outset. He gouged Braden River for 232 rushing yards in the first half, before finishing with 325 rushing yards on 32 carries and five touchdowns. His 325 rushing yards were 41 yards shy of the program record Dri Archer set in 2008.
“He was a machine out there, but it starts up front,” Bradley said. “We knew it. They are dominant up front, and they beat us up front.”
However, Braden River’s offense engineered back-to-back touchdown drives to knot things at 14.
Then, Laroche broke off an 87-yard touchdown run to stop Braden River’s momentum just before halftime.
Undeterred, the Pirates evened things back up heading into the fourth quarter. Quarterback Louis Colosimo and Braden River’s passing game keyed the resurgence. Colosimo finished with 469 yards on 34 of 45 passes with four touchdowns.
But when Venice’s defense got a key stop following back-to-back Braden River penalties, a Colosimo incompletion and a Trevor Keller sack, the Indians generated a late two-score advantage.
Braden River linebacker Noah Arce’s interception late in the fourth quarter preceded Colosimo finding Deshaun Fenwick for a 4-yard touchdown reception with 18 seconds remaining. That set the stage for Tyler McCauley’s onside kick that Haftke recovered.
A pass interference call set up the Pirates with one last heave. Colosimo, though, was sacked by Keller again.
And the Indians (6-0, 4-0) exacted revenge from losing twice to Braden River last year, including one in the playoffs.
“We’ve been looking forward to this for the last nine months and it feels really good,” Venice head coach John Peacock said.
Jason Dill: 941-745-7017, @Jason__Dill