As the seconds inched closer to triple zeroes, and without any timeouts, Braden River needed one last heave to send the game into overtime.
Senior quarterback Bryan Gagg dropped back and launched the ball toward the end zone for a potential game-tying touchdown.
But instead of Pirates receivers, it was a sea of green Venice jerseys camping under the ball. The East Carolina commit’s pass resulted in his second interception of the game.
That play, plus a momentum-changing first half pick, resulted in a 28-21 Venice victory in the Class 7A-Region 3 playoffs Friday at Powell-Davis Stadium.
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The win sends the Indians (11-1) into the region finals for a third straight season. It’s also Venice’s third consecutive playoff elimination of Braden River and its sixth straight win in the rivalry.
The two have played instant classics over the past four years, and Friday’s showdown was no different.
Venice, the defending 7A state champion, opened the game on an eight-play scoring drive. Then, with Braden River (9-3) nearing the red zone, Venice managed a 14-point swing on one play. Indians defensive back Noah Carr hopped a route over the middle to intercept Gagg, and Carr shifted fields a couple times en route to a 78-yard return for a touchdown.
Venice padded that lead to 21-0 before Braden River slowly clawed its way back. The Pirates’ defense slowed Venice’s offense just enough to make it a ballgame. Two key goal-line stands -- one to close the first half and another on Venice’s first drive of the second half -- ignited the comeback attempt.
In the past few meetings, Venice’s conversion rate on third and fourth down doomed Braden River. On Friday, it was the Pirates who needed to convert a few fourth down plays to stay within striking distance.
Gagg’s 33-yard touchdown pass to tight end Travis Tobey in the third quarter and a 20-yard Tobey reception late in the fourth quarter were two fourth-and-long conversions that pulled the Pirates to within seven points on both occasions.
Braden River running back Brian Battie, who entered the game with more than 2,000 rushing yards, was limited by Venice’s defensive line and linebackers. Battie finished with 57 rushing yards on 25 carries.
Gagg’s final high school game ended with 337 passing yards and three touchdowns. Clyde Townsend had 171 receiving yards on 12 catches. He also had a touchdown.