PENSACOLA - The lone team representing all of Clay County in post season play had a tall order coming into Friday night’s matchup against the host Pensacola Escambia High Gators; slow down the …
PENSACOLA - The lone team representing all of Clay County in post season play had a tall order coming into Friday night’s matchup against the host Pensacola Escambia High Gators; slow down the Gator air attack which averaged 190 yards a game and minimize any mistakes. It was the second part of the equation which the Middleburg Broncos had trouble with tonight as special teams allowed a blocked field goal, scoop and score for a touchdown, as well as a punt return for touchdown. The offense suffered two turnovers and two fumbles as the Broncos could not find the keys to slow the Gators on their roll to a 42-18 victory which snuffed out the Bronco post-season.
“It was early in the season all over again,” said Middleburg Head Coach Ryan Wolfe. “It was like we rolled back to our first four games where we faced a big opponent in a bigtime game, we are in there and a couple things happen. Two bad things turn into four bad things. Next thing you know… Momentum is crazy. You can’t put a value on momentum, but you can see a momentum shift in this game and that’s what happened.”
The game started on a good note after the Broncos were stopped and punted, then stopped the Gators. At 4:15, the human highlight reel, senior TJ Lane, who finished with 1,786 rushing yards for 2022 with 16 touchdowns, had his number called again on a fourth down and one yard to go to find paydirt with pure brute strength to go ahead 6-0. On the good point after kick, the Gators encroached. Now with half the distance, Wolfe tried to go for the two point conversion. Lane ran the right side and was called down before the ball broke the plain of the goal line. The Gators drove the field and at :47 seconds left in the first, evened, then pulled ahead with a good point after, 7-6.
With the kick back to the Broncos, Middleburg was on a good drive deep into Escambia territory when a third down and eight yards to go pass went incomplete.
On the field goal attempt, Escambia’s Ladarian Clardy, a thorn in the Bronco’s side all night, came across for the block, scooped the ball up and went over 70 yards to put the Gators up 14-6.
With Middleburg back on offense, they went right back to work with Lane and the occasional pass from Jaydan “Jaybo” Jenkins. After a third down and nine yards to go incomplete pass, the Broncos punted away from the 50 yard line. Again, Clardy comes in and steals the show with an on-the-run catch of the punt, slips four Bronco tackles, and takes it to the house, 21-6 and the huge momentum swing.
“Escambia is at where we need to be as a program,” said Wolfe. “Escambia comes in as the alpha. They have an expectation to win. They are a perennial powerhouse. We are trying to get there and in the second year, we made the playoffs. This isn’t a sprint, it is a marathon.”
The third quarter got away from the Broncos way too fast.
From the first play of the second half, the Gators went 50 yards on a screen pass, and after an incomplete pass, quarterback Ammiel Steele took it the remaining 15 yards to go ahead 28-6.
The Broncos would fumble and turn the ball right back to the Gators who cashed in score number two of the third quarter, 35-6.
The Broncos never quit and attempted a fourth down conversion with 2:28 left in the third quarter. Not getting enough yardage, the Gators needed just over one minute to put up the third unanswered score of the third quarter resulting in a running clock, 42-6. The kickoff back to the Broncos would close the third quarter.
With the Broncos starting out the fourth quarter on their own 35 yard line, Lane said not so fast and took it to the house at 10:50 to bring the score to 42-12. The Broncos had zero luck on extra points all evening. Escambia started to count the money just a little too early and on the first play back on offense, coughed the ball up putting the Broncos were right back on offense.
After another Lane run, this time Jonta Desota had his moment in the spotlight as he found the endzone to bring on the final score of the evening 42-18.
“In what we believe is 47 years, this is the school’s seventh playoff game, and they have only won one of those games,” said Wolfe. “We started out 0-4 and we made the playoffs. The fact that we are here in only the second year of this rebuild speaks for itself. This staff all comes from winners. NFL, college, winning high school programs, we know how to win. These kids are finally starting to believe. We are getting there.”
With only losing 14 seniors dispersed from various areas on the team, returning three starting offensive linemen, and only losing two seniors on defense, Bronco fans can’t wait to see if the Broncos take the leap to the next level in 2023.
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