When the days, months and years pass following Broadneck’s 21-0 loss to Wise in Friday’s Class 4A state championship game, the Bruins’ first title game appearance in 20 years, the seniors will likely still feel they could’ve done more.
“We left a lot out there. It definitely hurt,” senior Jed Pellicano said.
Everything that could’ve gone wrong for Broadneck did. The Bruins’ final drive couldn’t have exemplified it more.
With five minutes left and a three-touchdown deficit, Broadneck had no genuine hope of beating Wise, but at the very least, it could score on the state champions just once. Quarterback CJ Watkins navigated his offense past midfield with a fluidity that suggested a score was coming.
Then came the penalty flags. And the negative tackles. And suddenly, the scoreboard read fourth-and-40 and Watkins found himself underneath a Wise linebacker in the opposite red zone.
Coach Rob Harris blamed himself. The little mistakes “eat at you,” he said. First downs surrendered to Wise early meant Broadneck took terrible field position in the first quarter and couldn’t pick up momentum.
“And that’s why Wise is who they are,” Harris said. “But this was a ride that in October, we’d have never guessed. We made this run, and sadly, we all feel we could’ve done better. But it’s a testament to these guys we made it to this point.”
Harris showed uncommon emotion as he absorbed his last game with his son and the kids he’d known since their kindergarten days. Senior Tyler Hicks, who played for Harris in recreational with a broken wrist. Pellicano, who’d given Harris more funny stories than any kid he’d ever known. And his son, Eli, who joked to his dad at 10 years old that he couldn’t win the big game.
“But you know what? We won a lot of big games together,” Rob Harris said. “This senior class has freaking had a nice run.”
Broadneck didn’t begin the season assuming it would be playing in December. Penalty flags buried Broadneck in the first few weeks, instituting “Stinger Mondays” — a tradition Hicks genuinely believed brought the Bruins together in a way they desperately needed. It sent a message that they didn’t want penalties anymore and, save for Friday, the Bruins cleaned them up.
Receivers, too, Eli Harris said, adopted a new mentality: If one scores, they all do.
“Maybe teams in the past weren’t so much a collective group,” the senior wideout said. “But this one was.”
Defense kept the Bruins afloat until its offense found itself, and poured every bit of heart into a taxing playoff run. Dundalk, Northwest and Churchill all threw rush-heavy games against Broadneck. The Bruins surmised Wise to be a 70% rush team, and the Pumas proved it by only throwing the ball once.
“We’re not as deep as them. The fact these guys kept hitting that grindstone, I was impressed,” Harris said.
Broadneck initially benefitted from its usual stalwart defense Friday and kept the Pumas from finding the end zone. But Watkins couldn’t catch a break, and it set a pessimistic tone for the Bruins early. Twice, he started his drive a few steps away from the goal line. He hit the turf under hulking Puma bodies so many times that he started chucking it before his receivers could get set.
On his second drive, the sack Watkins suffered hurt more than bruises and yards, being brought down in the end zone for a safety. The Pumas quickly backed it up with a touchdown from junior DeCarlos Young to lead 9-0 early in the second quarter.
When Watkins and crew did start moving the ball, a pass fired dangerously toward a few Wise defenders ended up picked by Pumas middle linebacker Avery Cade. Young made good on his gift. The running back fielding offers from Michigan, West Virginia and more tore into the checkered end zone for his second touchdown.
Even the good things Broadneck did wilted quickly, such as Eli Harris’ 24-yard punt return. It set the Bruins offense up at a perfectly manageable perch at Wise’s 31 with a few minutes left in the first half. Instead, Broadneck rattled off two incompletes and a negative rush before throwing an interception on fourth-and-15.
Deflated, the Bruins shuffled off the Navy field with a deep need to calm down and a confidence that they were not yet finished.
“We keep our heads high ’til the very end,” Pellicano said. “That’s been our mentality the entire season. We always keep fighting.”
Broadneck’s Tyrin Chinn-Thompson gave the Bruins a spark, returning a punt to the Wise 21. Watkins enjoyed the fresh air, breaking a tackle in the backfield and moving to the offense to 14, a penalty brought it to the 9.
But after three fruitless downs, Chris Coleman’s 24-yard field goal went sideways — and with it, the first truly good shot at scoring.
“There were multiple drives we could’ve just thrown bombs, and we’d miss it by a couple inches,” Eli Harris said. “That drive, I had a catch in the corner I’d miss by a foot.”
It wasn’t their last chance.
After Wise collected another touchdown, Watkins and his offense finally strung together the first true Bruins campaign of the night. Seeing Harris heavily covered all night, Watkins wisely chose targets in lesser-used receivers like Aaron Foote and De’marien Hayes to churn yards, before giving Harris his due. Broadneck marched into the red zone. At last, a touchdown seemed imminent.
The ball snapped. Harris tore off toward the left pylon, neck craned back to receive. Instead, Watkins’ pass shot up the middle, right to Wise linebacker Tyvon Callaway-Toles.
“We didn’t execute. I thought we had a chance to have the ball there at the one yard line. It’s just tough,” Rob Harris said.