SNELLVILLE — Going into Friday night's clash between the Class AAAAAAA Brookwood Broncos and the AAAA Baldwin Braves, we were once again reminded that we are trudging through the COVID-19 era and everything can change at a moments notice, including football schedules.
For the Broncos, it was a whirlwind of a week with the addition of a new game, but the hosts passed the test in a 59-34 victory on the first varsity game on the stadium's new artificial turf.
Brookwood was forced to cancel last Friday's game with Walton due to COVID issues within the Broncos' program. Brookwood had to be released from its contract with Walton and scrambled to find an opponent with only two days to prepare. After calling more than 20 schools, Brookwood found an opponent for the home opener in Baldwin from Milledgeville.
“We just kind of figure we’re playing like a basketball team where you only have a few days to prepare for a game and then go play," Brookwood head coach Philip Jones said.
Not only did the Broncos face the challenge of playing on a short week, the Broncos also had the challenge of COVID. With three to five starters potentially out of the game and 12 to 13 total players out, it was a next man up mentality for the Broncos.
“Baldwin has always been known as a tough, physical, well-coached football team," Jones said, praising Braves head coach Jesse Hicks and his team.
Defensively, the Broncos faced an explosive offense led by sophomore dual threat quarterback sophomore Solomon Burney complemented by some talented receivers. After a tumultuous week for the Broncos, Friday night was pretty simple — just play.
Play they did. In the first minute of action, fans witnessed six kickoffs, two touchdowns and two turnovers. The Brookwood defense started fast, as the Broncos forced a fumble on Baldwin's first play from scrimmage. The Brookwood offense responded quickly and scored on their first offensive play, with a 30-yard touchdown strike from Brookwood junior quarterback Dylan Lonergan to tight end Stone Bonner to make the score 7-0 Broncos with 11:37 to go first quarter.
The Braves responded with a touchdown off the Brookwood kickoff to tie the game at seven. After a Brookwood fumble on the first play of the ensuing drive, Baldwin capitalized with a touchdown drive for a 13-7 lead. Several Baldwin penalties led to the next three kickoffs.
The Brookwood offense continued to roll as the Broncos retook the lead 14-13 with 5:58 left in the first quarter. Lonergan’s second passing touchdown of the night was to Jason Thisdale. The next Baldwin drive ended with Bronco defensive back Shaman Lewis coming up with a big interception to stop the momentum. Brookwood seized advantage of the big defensive play by adding another score, a Lonergan to Bryce Dopson TD reception, making the score 21-13 Broncos early in the second quarter.
After a big hit from Bronco defender Princeton Brown caused another Baldwin turnover, Brookwood linebacker Jordan Davenport recovered the ball and rumbled to the 2-yard line. Brookwood senior Alexander Diggs punched it in to extend the Brookwood lead to 28-13.
After a Baldwin 48-yard touchdown run chopped the Bronco lead to 28-19, Diggs took over with an impressive 65-yard rushing touchdown. Diggs extended the Bronco lead to 35-19 late in the first half. On the next drive, J.J. Silva added a 28 yard field goal that gave the Broncos a 38-19 lead going into the locker room for the half.
To start the second half, the Broncos' offense picked up right where it left off with another Lonergan touchdown pass to Dopson to make the Bronco lead 45-19 with 10 minutes to go in third quarter.
Even with players out for COVID precautions, the Broncos started the substitutions in the third quarter. The scoring continued as the Braves responded with a touchdown of their own to close the scoring gap to 45-26. The Broncos answered and seemed to march down the field with ease as senior running back Jamal Prothro powered in to the end zone to make the score 52-26 Brookwood with 4:41 left in the third quarter.
The rout continued on the next Brookwood drive, and Diggs flashed with another highlight touchdown run for 68 yards to give Brookwood a 59-26 lead at the end of the third quarter. At that point, starters were pulled and the Broncos cruised to a 59-34 win and improved to 2-1 on the season.
"The past eight days have been the strangest and hardest," Jones said "We were dealing with turf or maybe no turf, COVID issues and making sure our players were safe, getting out of the contract with Walton, and finding out on Tuesday night that we were playing on Friday night."
Jones said he was "proud of how the Bronco players handled adversity every step of the way. We knew Baldwin would be tough, they took their shots, but our kids answered the call every step of the way."
The Broncos will host North Paulding next week for Homecoming.