Friday night I braved the cold wind and rain to watch a team I’ve covered for the past three seasons earn their reward. The Justin-Siena Braves finished the football season the way seasons are supposed to end for the Braves: as section champions.
My first year covering my former school was 2010. Justin-Siena entered the season having lost to Fort Bragg in the championship game the year before. Most of that team had graduated.
The team that remained was demolished by almost every opponent they faced. The Braves won one game that year, and were on the wrong end of blowouts most of the season. It was the year that could’ve, would’ve, and should’ve been.
Roddrick Sweeney Jr. missed the first half of the season with an injury. The unanimous team captain returned in week five and rushed for almost 1,000 yards in six games. What would’ve happened those first four games had he been available?
Sweeney was also the victim of a bad call against Redwood. He stretched out his arm to get the ball over the goalline, but the officials ruled it a fumble instead of a touchdown. Redwood took over and never looked back.
I asked the official at halftime what he saw, and his explanation was that he saw the player down on the ground stretch out with the ball and drop it. As Sweeney put his hand back on the ball the Redwood defenders dove on it and recovered it. See the problem?
If Sweeney was on the ground when he reached for the end zone, it’s not a fumble. He is down and the play is over. If he’s on the ground when he touches the ball, the play is dead at that moment. I was standing right beside the official who made the call, and I can tell you he got it wrong because I saw the ball break the plane BEFORE it came loose. Therefore, it should’ve been a touchdown. How different would that game have been?
The 2010 football season will go down as a season of lost opportunities and unfinished business.
That was a rallying cry at the start of 2011. The Braves felt they had cheated themselves out of a chance at redemption and wanted to prove it.
Justin-Siena made the playoffs, but I’m not sure they really learned how to handle adversity during that season. There were times things would go wrong and they would quickly recover, and others they let slip away.
It all culminated with an overtime loss to Willits in the first round of the playoffs. The Braves thought the play was over, but no whistle had been blown. The Wildcats’ runningback kept going into the end zone for the winning score. Justin-Siena was heartbroken.
So for the third year in a row the Braves entered the season with unfinished business. This time, they finished it.
I could not be more proud of these young men. Marcus Armstrong-Brown has gone from struggling sophomore quarterback, to senior standout. Austin Connolly went from being one of the running backs to being THE running back (don’t worry Diano Pachote, you’ll get those carries next year). Brandon Weaver, Stephen Panis, all the seniors on this team have worked so hard for four years. They earned this section championship long before Friday night’s matchup was scheduled.
Congratulations to you all. You’ve made the Justin-Siena family very proud.