High School Sports

Prep football | Pirates go 7-0, clinch playoff trip

NORTH PORT -- Two years ago, Braden River didn't notch a victory until the final game of the season.

Now the Pirates have two regular-season games left and haven't lost.

But after their 42-14 trouncing of host North Port on Friday, there are still a lot of big prizes ahead.

The victory clinches the Pirates' first postseason berth under third-year head coach Curt Bradley and sets up a winner-take-all battle next week against Palmetto for the Class 7A-District 10 crown.

"First and foremost is going to the playoffs, and we were fortunate enough and worked hard enough to accomplish that. And now we have a chance to play for a district championship," Bradley said. "It feels great for the coaching staff and the players and everybody involved in the program. We had a lot of young guys two years ago, and they never stopped believing. ... We are moving this thing forward.

After a little stumbling when Braden River (7-0, 3-0) couldn't punch it in from the 1-yard line on its first possession, the Pirates took control of the game and dominated play.

The Pirates used their three-headed running back tandem and the play of quarterback Jacob Huesman, who continued to be nearly perfect, completing five of seven passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns.

After Raymond Thomas put the Pirates on the board with a three-yard run, Huesman connected with Erik Ross for a 28-yard TD pass and then hit Justin Ross for 59 yards to give Braden River a 21-0 lead.

Teddy Deas scored from 10 yards out for North Port (1-8, 0-4), but Braden River responded with two more touchdowns on two-yard runs from Carlos Crawford and Jaylin Austin for a 35-7 halftime lead.

The Pirates came into the game ranked 10th in the Class 7A AP state poll, marking the first time the program had reached that level.

"I got notified by the student body, but it wasn't really on my mind. I was just focused on winning and getting us to the playoffs," Huesman said. "I wasn't thinking ahead (to next week). We are just taking it one game at a time. We win or lose; we have to play on."

The game went to a running clock after the first play of the third quarter when Davion Banks returned the second-half kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown. The cornerback was inspired in part by the return of JoJo Louis, who recovered from a neck injury that had him hospitalized just a few weeks ago.

"I was just thinking I had to make a cut and I could be gone. It was the first kickoff I ever returned for a touchdown at any level," Banks said. "It felt great and it was great to have JoJo back there at the other cornerback spot. He is like a brother to me."

Braden River dominated both sides of the ball. The Pirates earned 206 yards on the ground led by Raymond Thomas, who had 104 yards. Justin Ross led the air attack catching three passes for 115 yards.

The Pirates limited North Port to 149 yards rushing and 80 through the ai,r picking off three passes by Deas. Caleb Ford, Noah Arcy and Derek Hintze each had an interception.