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In a game where 88 combined points were scored, the story usually would revolve around offense. However, defense is what wins championships as Bronson's 9-10 year old football team showed en route to Saturday's 48-38 win against Hawthorne in the league title game.
The Eagles finish the season with a 7-1 record and avenged their only loss in the process after falling 14-12 against Hawthorne during the regular season. The Hornets' lone loss before Saturday was a 6-0 defeat at the hands of Newberry.
"The kids were fired up," said Bronson coach Jose Thomas. "They've been talking about this game since that lost. They beat Newberry twice and nobody has ever beat Newberry, especially not twice. But they beat them (during the regular season) and beat them to knock them out of the championship.
"This was a big step in the right direction for Bronson football. Bronson has never won a youth league championship."
A pair of fourth-quarter defensive stops by the Eagles proved to be the difference in a game that featured the teams trading touchdowns up to that point.
The first stand came after a 24-yard touchdown run by Jamar Grant and an extra-point run Quitman Kincaid gave Bronson a 28-26 lead. At this age level, points after touchdown rules are the opposite of older age groups. Teams are awarded two points if they kick it through the uprights, and one point for a run or pass.
With a minute remaining in the third quarter, the Eagles forced Hawthorne's first punt of the game. The ball isn't actually punted at this level, but instead is advanced 30 yards.
Bronson needed just two plays to reach the end zone after forcing the punt. Jalen Rutledge broke away for a 37-yard scamper on the first snap, and Kincaid followed by racing 44 yards untouched down the home sideline for a touchdown. Grant ran in the extra point to increase the Eagles' lead to 35-26.
On the ensuing possession, Bronson forced another punt by using an attacking defense that led to several stops behind the line of scrimmage. Two plays later, Rutledge ran for a 59-yard touchdown to lift the lead to 41-26 with 5:54 remaining in regulation.
Thomas said defensive formations were switched up just before the two game-changing stands.
"We made a couple of adjustments," Thomas said. "We came out in a 44 set, but we changed it back to a 50 set so we could get more pressure on the ends and we could clog up the line of scrimmage.
"That was a big factor in us finally being able to stop them on those two drives there."
Another major adjustment may have made an even bigger impacted after Hawthorne jumped out to an early lead.
"They came out really flat in the first half," said Lee Bell, the team's head coach. "We had a good talk with them and told them, 'This is the championship ... Either go out here and let them have it, or play like you know how to play.' And that seemed to get them a little more motivated."
Hawthorne used a long touchdown pass to cut the lead to 41-32 before attempting an onside kick that was recovered by the Eagles. On the next play, Kincaid took a handoff up the middle and broke several tackles to muscle his way to a 47-yard touchdown. That put the game out of reach with 3:04 remaining.
Hawthrone hadn't given up more than 20 points all season, so to put up 48 in the championship was quite a feat for the young Eagles.
"We run a wedge-set offense," Bell said. "We don't really have a (quarterback) so we like to run it where we rotate our running backs in there to take snaps. We run dive, dive, dive and then run that counter off of it.
"It worked well for us, especially in the second half when the backs did a really good job of hitting holes and the line did a great job of opening up some big holes for them to run through."
Thomas received an ice bath after the game and his voice was hoarse from yelling. He said part of his hoarseness came from the game, but also from late-night practices preparing the team for the championship during the previous week. He credited a supportive group of parents as well as the players with taking the title.
"The parents' support was great," Thomas said. "The parents kind of controlled the youth league for us last year, but this year everybody pulled together. We were a team. A solid team.
"And I can't ask for a better group of kids. We had this same group last year, so we started having camp in July and they worked their butt off. They deserve this."