Prep football | Braden River routs Palmetto to earn second straight district title

EAST MANATEE -- The journey started in 2012 when Curt Bradley took over a Braden River football program searching for stability and success.

It was a rough start, too, when the Pirates lost their first nine games during Bradley's tenure.

But after Friday's showdown with Palmetto turned into a 35-0 rout to clinch back-to-back district titles and earn the program's 18th straight regular-season victory, the search for stability and success can be called off.

"Let's just say I can wear a Braden River Pirate football shirt out in public these days," Bradley said." It was a little rough the first nine games. But we knew we had a special group of young men. It started as freshman and they lost early. And they didn't want it to happen anymore."

On Friday, the Pirates (8-0 overall, 4-0 Class 7A-District 11) marched right down the field on their opening possession, which lasted seven plays and was capped by Raymond Thomas' 9-yard touchdown run.

Then the defense forced Palmetto into a three-and-out on its opening drive.

Braden River then chewed up more than five minutes with a 10-play drive that ended with Jaylin Austin's 17-yard rushing touchdown.

However, the Pirates also received a worry: Thomas, the club's star tailback, sprung Austin with a block in open field for the score, but was injured on the play.

He was helped off the field, did not return and spent the second half slowly riding the exercise bike on the sidelines and on crutches.

"Significant, but don't know how," Bradley said about Thomas, who entered the game averaging 8.86 yards per carry.

The loss didn't slow down the Pirates offense or defense.

Braden River didn't intercept Miami-bound quarterback Jack Allison four times like last season's district title-clinching blowout, but the Pirates defensive line pressured Palmetto's senior signal-caller repeatedly.

"Jack's a great player, but we knew we had to stop the run first," Bradley said. "If Octavious (James) got going, then it makes Jack's life a lot easier. And so we started the week by saying, 'Stop the run. Force Jack to beat us with his arm.' Fortunately enough, we were able to make them one-dimensional and are kids just flew around."

Braden River senior linebacker Chase Balliette agreed.

"We knew we had a big threat with Jack Allison, and we just had to get after the pass," Balliette said.

And they did.

Allison went 3-for-9 in the first half, while suffering two sacks from Matthew Haftke and Dylan Tyson.

"We've got to make plays," Palmetto head coach Dave Marino said. "That's the bottom line."

Tyson suffered an injury late in the game, was on crutches after it was over but his diagnosis was not known.

Meanwhile, Braden River quarterback Jacob Huesman threw short passes to Austin and Juwaan Jenkins, who both broke free for long touchdowns to make it 28-0 at the half.

Consequently, the Pirates celebrated the program's second straight district title, while Palmetto has to win at Venice next week to earn the remaining playoff berth from 7A-11.

"It's going to test the character of our kids," Marino said. "We're going to see what type of character do they have. Are they going to fight back or are they going to lay down? It's really that simple."