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GAINESVILLE - Scratch a "W" on the schedule right now - at 1-0, Bronson football starts the season with a winning record. The blue Eagles paid a visit to Oak Hall, whom they'd beaten 28-12 last year, and left the field carrying a hard-earned 27-18 win.
"I'm so happy we won," said Bronson head coach Al Cooksey.
Following a tough loss at Chiefland in the preseason, Cooksey said he had feared his Eagles might turn their hopes to the Oak Hall game with more expectation than reason.
"I think they think they've beaten them already," he said then.
The blue Eagles took their great expectations up to Gainesville and, with the help of vigilant coaching, played the game that matched their expected outcome. Bronson played aggressively on both sides of the ball, taking only two minutes to score their first touchdown on their first drive of the game. QB Kelby Barber hit Rodolfo Contreras out in the flat and Contreras blasted 65 yards down the right sideline for the score.
They attacked hard on defense, too, blitzing talented Oak Hall QB Will Indianos as often as possible and making it hard for him to get quality throws to receivers Gene Rodrick and Travis Rwebyogo. With the help of big running back James Markham, Oak Hall put together enough ground yards to stand on the Bronson 26. Jesse Waybright's interception of Indianos' next pass attempt squashed the drive.
Oak Hall's offense got much closer on its first drive of the second quarter, again sharing the ball between Markham and Rodrick, but the effort fizzled inside the Bronson 10 when a big penalty on what was already third and long set them back farther than they could recover.
Bronson again took immediate advantage, as Barber found tight end Mike Reza with a timely nine-yard pass to gain the blue Eagles a little space. Tailback Virgil Greenlee was sprung out of the backfield to pick up 41 yards down the the Oak Hall 34. Two plays later, Barber got outside on a keeper and raced in 26 yards for a second Bronson TD.
Indianos did drive his team to the goal line with two minutes left in the half, a 36-yard completion to Rwebyogo sestting up his own 10-yard keeper into the end zone. With the score now 14-6 Bronson, the blue Eagles three-and-outed on their first series after the score. Oak Hall rushed to attack again, but Bronson's Raymie Powers intercepted an urgent Indianos toss from midfield, killing the drive as the halftime horn sounded.
There was no scoring in the third quarter, but there were some penalties. Throughout a clean and fair, but messy game, both Bronson and Oak Hall racked up enough procedural penalties, holds and improper blocks to have touchdowns called back. In the fourth quarter, the scoring returned.
Oak Hall started their first possession off a Bronson punt from deep, happily finding themselves on the blue 35 yard line. The maroon Eagles inched down inside the 20, then Leon Cummings drove the ball down to the three. After three more tries, Indianos finally punched the ball in from the one yard line, getting Oak Hall within a two-point conversion of tying the game. The maroon Eagles attempted the run on an Indianos keeper, but Waybright crushed Indianos outside the goal line to end the try with Bronson up 14-12.
Still feeling their lead, the blue Eagles retaliated immediately with a score that first saw Contreras gain 35 yards on two runs, then Waybright pick up 35 more on a dash down to the Oak Hall five yard line. Barber carried the ball in for an apparent score, then, when a penalty called it back, took two more tries to run it in to the end zone again from the 12. His PAT attempt was blocked.
Bronson's defense snuffed the next Oak Hall drive at the maroon 37 and took the ball over on downs. After two tries for negative yardage, Barber took a keeper to the right sideline and turned the corner for a blistering 47-yard touchdown run. His final PAT kick was good, making him three for four on the night and giving the blue Eagles a 27-12 advantage with under two minutes remaining.
As it turned out, a minute and a half was all it took for Oak Hall to make one final sprint to the goal line. Once again, Indianos found Cummings for a 38-yard catch that brought the maroon Eagles to the brink of the goal line. At fourth and goal from the seven yard line, Indianos unleashed a pass that found Jared Goodman's hands as the horn blew to end the game.
"Thank God," said Cooksey after the drama was over.
"We've still got to do a lot of work with them, but the offense did a great job tonight. All of 'em played good, actually."
Cooksey was also pleased with the work of the defense, that even with its relative lack of experience, held Oak Hall off for much of the game. "Gregg Roberts, this is his first time playing football - he helped us a lot. C.J. King, Raymie Powers also, they haven't played much before either," he said.
But it was Barber's big effort that put Bronson over the top, Cooksey said.
"Kelby's just a competitor."
This Friday, Bronson hosts Upper Room Christian Academy of Lauderhill.
Bronson: 7 7 0 13 - 27
Oak Hall: 0 6 0 12 - 18
Q1: Bronson: Barber 14-yard completion to Contreras; Barber kick
Q2: Bronson: Barber 26-yard run; Barber kick
Oak Hall: Indianos 10-yard run
Q4: Oak Hall: Indianos 1-yard run
Bronson: Barber 4-yard run
Barber 26-yard run; Barber kick
Oak Hall: Indianos 7-yard completion to Goodman