Late-game heroics lift Buhler over Collegiate
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BUHLER Last fall, Denton Branscom was on the sidelines supported by crutches during Buhler football games.
This summer, Branscom was relentlessly rehabbing the knee injury that had robbed him of all but one game of his junior season.
On Friday night, Branscom was finally able to make the impact he had spent a year yearning for in Buhler’s 35-28 victory over Collegiate at home.
In the game’s deciding moments, Branscom broke free from 1-on-1 coverage and snagged the game-winning 37-yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds remaining.
Fifteen seconds would prove to be all the time Buhler (2-0) led in the game.
“I’ve been working really hard for this,” Branscom said. “It’s just awesome. I can’t even comprehend it right now. I’m still in shock. This is so great.”
It was a stunning reversal of roles, as Collegiate was in control for the first 43 minutes of the game.
The Spartans even had the ball with a 7-point lead with the clock ticking under five minutes in the fourth quarter. But injuries on the offensive line and the talent of Landon Root at quarterback, the appeal of the passing game was too hard to turn down for coach Mike Gehrer.
“If we can throw a hitch and pick up five yards, that’s what we were going to do,” Gehrer said. “That was our run game.”
But on a critical third down play, Buhler sophomore Jace Williams jumped that hitch route for an interception that would set up the game-tying score on a 13-yard pass from Williams to Branscom with 2:21 left.
It was an otherwise outstanding day for Root, who finished 28-of-38 passing for 269 yards, adding 80 more on the ground and accounting for all four Collegiate touchdowns.
On the next possession, Root tried to pick on Williams again. This time, his favorite receiver, 6-foot-5 Bret Waddell, faked a hitch route and streaked down field.
Again, Williams read it perfectly and was there to come down with the interception.
So how did he know it was a fake the second time?
“I guess I just got lucky,” said Williams, who registered his first start at quarterback.
Buhler coach Steve Warner was content to bring on overtime, but Branscom turned a mundane fullback dive up the middle into a 37-yard scamper to put the Crusaders into scoring territory with 23 seconds remaining.
Most coaches wouldn’t feel comfortable letting a sophomore take a shot in a decisive moment like that, but Warner says most sophomores aren’t like Williams.
“He’s used to the pressure,” Warner said. “He started on the basketball and baseball team as a freshman. He’s been in the fire. We have a lot of confidence in him.”
Presented with a small time margin and an even smaller window to complete a pass, Williams fired a spiral over the middle of the field that whizzed by the Collegiate safety and into the hands of Branscom for the go-ahead score.
Williams, who finished with 230 total yards and four touchdowns, directed touchdown drives on four of five second-half possessions for Buhler
Not a bad Friday night for a 16-year-old.
“It’s a big relief,” Williams said. “I’m just glad it went well.”
C — L. Root 47 run (Moxley kick)
B — Allen 1 run (Wolf kick)
C — Copher 31 pass from L. Root (Moxley kick)
B — Williams 11 run (Wolf kick)
C — A. Waddell 13 pass from L. Root (Moxley kick)
B — Wolf 63 pass from Williams (Wolf kick)
C — L. Root 4 run (Moxley kick)
B — Branscom 13 pass from Williams (Wolf kick)
B — Branscom 37 pass from Williams (Wolf kick)
Rushing — Collegiate, L. Root 12-80, Williams 7-8, Carder 2-4; Buhler, Branscom 12-86, Allen 20-66, Williams 6-35, Wolf 2-8.
Passing — Collegiate, L. Root 28-38-2-269; Buhler, Williams 10-17-0-195.
Receiving — Collegiate, B. Waddell 8-135, Copher 8-55, Carder 5-32, A. Waddell 4-27, Williams 3-20; Buhler, Wolf 2-104, Branscom 5-74, Shantz 1-9, Allen 2-8.C—Copher 31 pass from L. Root (Moxley kick)