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November 12, 2012
Western Branch Wins on FG 23-21
Schomburg's Kick Sends Bruins to Semis: Making their first playoff appearance since 2008 when they lost to the Bethel Bruins in the Eastern Region quarterfinals, the fifth-seeded Western Branch Bruins made the trip across the tunnel to Darling Stadium in Hampton to play fourth-seeded Bethel in a battle between two surprising 8-2 squads.
Western Branch saw its season come down to one play, a 30-yard field goal try by Brady Schomburg with under a minute to play. With the game on the line, the junior calmly drilled the kick, the biggest of his life to propel the Bruins from Chesapeake to a 23-21 victory that puts them in the Eastern Region Division 6 semifinals.
"When we get out there, I wasn't really nervous. Before then, I was a little nervous though," Schomburg admitted. "I felt like it was good when it left my foot and that was a great feeling. If I had missed, I would've cried."
There were only tears of joy for Western Branch, which notched its first playoff victory since 2007 when they beat Bayside in the quarterfinals. Kevin Newsome, who's now at Temple, was the team's quarterback then.
Schomburg credited his snapper, Chris Myers, and his holder, T.J. Boothe, as well. First-year Head Football Coach Greg Gibson, who came to the Bruins after orchestrating a turnaround at Norview last year, never doubted his decision to kick the field goal on 4th & 2 from the 13-yard line.
"I had all the confidence in the world that we were going to block it up front and Brady was going to put it in between the pipes," Gibson stated. "That was a great job by him. We practiced it all year long and like I told all the guys sometimes it's going to come down to a field goal and we have to have confidence in our kicker, and we do."
It was the first game Western Branch has played all year long decided by less than 14 points. All eight of their previous wins were lopsided and so were the two losses to Oscar Smith and Grassfield.
Bethel got out-gained 301-172 on the evening, but led on two separate occasions, 14-13 in the second period and 21-20 in the fourth quarter. Western Branch was able to win in spite of four turnovers (two interceptions, two fumbles), having a punt blocked, missing an extra point and not scoring a touchdown in the entire second half.
"It was all about belief from the get go. We believed in ourselves no matter what happened. We realized that you have to have a short memory with everything that has happened and have to make the plays now," said Western Branch running back Josh Marriner, the guy they rode on their final drive to put them in field goal range.
"A win like this shows what we can do as a team when we stick together. No matter what, if it's something bad that happens or we're doing something good, it's important that we stay together as a team throughout the whole entire game and not give up."
Now after going 10-20 over the past three seasons before 2012, the Bruins are one of only eight remaining teams playing in the region the week before Thanksgiving.
"It was two good teams battling it out and the kids played with a lot of heart," added Gibson. "We overcame a lot of adversity, had a couple picks, a fumble return for a touchdown, a blocked punt. The defense played lights out keeping them off the scoreboard for the most part on some of those dramatic turnovers we had in the red zone and did a great job."
Marriner becomes the first player in Western Branch history to reach the milestone.
"It's great," Marriner said of rushing for over 2000 yards. "I wouldn't be able to do it without my team. My o-line and even people who don't even play offense push me in the weight room, believe in me and they make me do what I have to do so we can stay on top."
In the first half, Marriner carried the ball 16 times for 109 yards. His numbers weren't quite as good in the second half and some might say he was slowing down, but he actually more yards per carry in the third quarter (7.3). Bethel was able to win Time of Possession that quarter 8:03 to 3:57, and that limited Marriner to just four carries for 29 yards.
When the fourth quarter rolled around, Western Branch possessed the ball 8:18 to 3:42, handing it off to Marriner 10 times for 39 tough yards he grinded out.
"He can go outside, he can go inside and they did a good job of stacking the box. We just had to take three yards, two yards, four yards, but when we needed a five-yarder to get a first down, he was there," Gibson commented. "Overall, it was a great effort with Josh leading the way as the workhorse."
For the year, Marriner has now rushed 228 times for 2071 yards and 24 touchdowns. All Marriner needs is 21 yards next week in the regional semifinals to tie the single-season Southeastern District rushing yardage record set by Great Bridge's Dre Mayes just a year ago.
Senior signal caller C.J. Thomas didn't wow statistically, going 4 of 9 for 65 yards and two interceptions. However, Thomas did come through when it mattered most on fourth down. Western Branch converted all three of their fourth downs on the night, two of them in enormous situations.
Midway through the second quarter, Thomas found Brandon Addison for a 38-yard touchdown pass on fourth down. Facing fourth down again on their final drive of the game, Thomas found T.J. Boothe over the middle for 14 yards to move the chains and get in field goal range for Schomburg.
"When we needed a big completion, C.J. and T.J. did a great job of hooking up in the middle of the field," Gibson agreed. "We made some errors, but we stepped up and were able to overcome those mistakes."
In addition, Thomas was able to use his mobility to buy time in the pocket and move away from pass rushers.
They actually finished with a better record, going 8-3 overall and re-grouping from a 51-0 shellacking at the hands of Lake Taylor by beating Hampton and losing to reigning Division 5 State Champion Phoebus by only two. One could argue they improved as much as any team from game one to their final contest.
Playing exceptionally in his final game in a Bethel uniform was senior receiver/defensive back Corey Sweetenburg, who scored on a 26-yard reception, returned a fumble for a touchdown 36 yards, ran 50 yards on a reverse and recorded 10 tackles on defense.
With Walker and a host of others returning next year, plus it being their second season in a new system with several talented players moving up from J.V., expect more good results for 2013 and beyond.
"It's a great challenge, but we're ready to take it on as a team," Marriner remarked.
The Dolphins will be without star quarterback Corwin Cutler, who suffered a knee injury in their 34-3 victory over Granby. Nonetheless, they're a squad full of future College Football players.
"They're fantastic, a great football team and it's going to be a tremendous challenge for our young men," Gibson said. "But we've earned the right to play them. We played good all year and going to be looking forward to them."
Branch 23: (9-2 overall)
21: (8-3 overall)
Matthew Hatfield has covered Eastern Region Football & Basketball since 2004 for VirginiaPreps.com, part of the Rivals.com Network. Check out Hatfield's Twitter page for more sports related updates, and you can also read his work in the Suffolk News Herald. To contact Matthew, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, and don't forget to listen to him on the VirginiaPreps.com Hour every Saturday at 11AM on ESPN Radio 94.1 plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.