Bat­tie car­ries Braden River to wild win

The Bradenton Herald - - Sports - BY MARK LAWRENCE Her­ald cor­re­spon­dent

With or with­out stand­out wide re­ceiver Knowl­edge McDaniel, Braden River High proved its bal­anced of­fense could put up points against any­one this sea­son.

The key for the Pi­rates this post­sea­son was whether their de­fense could stop op­po­nents from do­ing so.

Braden River’s de­fense passed the first such test Fri­day night, need­ing a fi­naldrive stand to pre­serve a 28-23 vic­tory against Plant City in a Class 7A-Re­gion 3 quar­ter­fi­nal.

The teams com­bined for 21 points in the fi­nal 5 min­utes, turn­ing a com­fort­able 21-9 Braden River lead into a nail-bit­ing fin­ish se­cured with a stop on fourth down and less than a yard at the Pi­rates’ 33-yard-line.

The of­fense was the same old story, how­ever: Run Brian Bat­tie again and again.

And the ju­nior stand­out more than off­set the Pi­rates’ three first-half turnovers, in­clud­ing two in the red zone, and five first-half penal­ties. The mis­cues kept Plant City within strik­ing dis­tance un­til the end in­stead of the Pi­rates de­liv­er­ing their hoped for early knock­out punch.

But Bat­tie was un­stop­pable, rush­ing for 349 yards on 39 car­ries, in­clud­ing four touch­downs. How­ever, the ju­nior lost two fum­bles, in­clud­ing one in the open field in­side the 10 as he was run­ning for a touch­down.

Later in the half, he fum­bled at mid­field, set­ting up Chris Ro­driguez’ 27-yard field goal that put Plant City on the board

at the 5:41 mark of the se­cond quar­ter.

Both fum­bles were caused by Plant City de­fend­ers punch­ing at the ball, part of the Raiders’ fo­cus on stop­ping — or at least slow­ing — him.

With the vic­tory, Braden River (9-2) ad­vances to face de­fend­ing Class 7A state cham­pion Venice in the se­cond round for the third con­sec­u­tive sea­son.

The Pi­rates lost those play­off en­coun­ters and, with McDaniel in the lineup, lost 24-21 to the In­di­ans in late Septem­ber.

Braden River’s only other loss came to Jack­sonville Trin­ity Chris­tian, the top-ranked Class 5A team in the state and a top-50 pro­gram in the na­tion.

The vic­tory also marked the se­cond time in four sea­sons Braden River ended Plant City’s sea­son: Braden River earned a 17-7 vic­tory in the re­gional fi­nal round of the 2015 sea­son.

The Pi­rates have won at least one post­sea­son game in five con­sec­u­tive sea­sons.

Though the teams met in an ear­lier round this time, this edi­tion of the Pi­rates’ de­fense was just as stingy. The Pi­rates lim­ited the Raiders (9-2) to 9 points through 44 min­utes and their stand­out quar­ter­back, Brax­ton Plunk to a 19 of 45 per­for­mance for 283 yards.

They did it with tight cov­er­age on Plant City’s re­ceivers, aided by the de­fen­sive backs’ con­sis­tent abil­ity to time their con­tact with re­ceivers.

Braden River was also able to get pres­sure on Plunk from the in­te­rior on ob­vi­ous pass­ing downs. Plunk en­tered the game hav­ing thrown for 2,326 yards, 24 touch­downs and four in­ter­cep­tions.

The Pi­rates’ Mark Davis gave Plunk his fifth in­ter­cep­tion, pick­ing off an over­thrown pass at the goal line with 1:37 left in the first half to pre­vent Plant City from cut­ting into the Pi­rates’ 14-3 lead be­fore the break.

Even with Plunk, the Plant City of­fense, on pa­per, was less dy­namic when com­pared to Braden River, which av­er­aged more than 45 points in their eight wins and more than 40 over­all.

Brian Bat­tie

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