For the second straight week, the Braden River High football team played a county rival.
And for the second straight week, it turned into an instant classic with the Pirates finishing on top.
Braden River defeated Palmetto 31-28 on Friday night to open Class 7A-District 11 play.
“What a football game,” Braden River head coach Curt Bradley said after the Pirates won their third in a row to improve to 3-1.
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After trailing for the first time in the game, Braden River and its high-octane offense kicked into an extra gear with Bryan Gagg’s 71-yard touchdown pas to Clyde Townsend with 2:04 left in the fourth quarter. That put the Pirates ahead by three points.
Palmetto (2-2), which engineered a two-minute drill for a touchdown to close the first half, began its final drive from its own 27 with 1:53 remaining. The Tigers marched their way near the red zone and were facing a fourth-and-1.
Deciding against a field goal, Palmetto head coach Dave Marino had his son, quarterback Anthony Marino, sneak the ball for the first down. Marino’s legs were needed again, this time to cover a fourth-and-3 from the Braden River 11 with the clock ticking down from 10 seconds.
Palmetto stopped the clock and set up for a final play from Braden River’s 6. Instead of sending the game to overtime with a chip shot field goal, Dave Marino instructed his team to go for the win on the road.
“People will second-guess me, I don’t (care),” Marino told his team after the game. “That was the right call to go for it.”
Anthony Marino couldn’t find an open receiver as he rolled right and chose to cut upfield. A swarm of Braden River defenders closed the gap and tackled him a couple yards shy of a game-winning, walk-off touchdown.
“What are we going to do, and then what, we play for a tie?” Dave Marino said. “We line up from the 10. We’re already there. ... We were supposed to lean on our offense this year. So what? We’re going to put it on the 10 and ask our defense to make a stop from 10 yards out? Nah. Offense needed to score right there and we didn’t. We came up a little short.”
Braden River’s offense was paced by running back Brian Barrie’s 191 rushing yards, Gagg’s 274 passing yards and Townsend’s 169 receiving yards. Marino finished with 257 passing yards and 55 rushing yards.
Aside from the final drive, there were several momentum-changing plays. The final one that could have doomed Braden River was a late fourth-quarter interception, but the Pirates’ defense forced a quick three-and-out to get the ball one last time for their offense.
“Our defense could’ve rolled over,” Bradley said. “We give them one first down and the game (is) over. Fortunately, they ran out of bounds that saved us a timeout, but gave us the time needed.
“Actually wished he had stayed in bounds so we didn’t have to have that last-second stand.”