Matt Warren, Junior Cress

Branford's Matt Warren (58) and Junior Cress celebrate after a stop Friday against Interlachen.

BRANFORD — Branford overpowered Interlachen 27-10 Friday night at Cleve Sikes Field at Buccaneer Stadium with a steady run attack and an aggressive defense.

The Buccaneers sacked Rams quarterback Kaleb Wiggins a handful of times, and the senior quarterback was forced to either rush into hurried passes or try to gain yardage on scrambles the rest of the night.

Toss in 11 rushes for 79 yards and a few big pass receptions by the Bucs’ Colton Leibold and Branford head into an open week at 5-4 with its first winning streak of the season..

Heading into Friday, Wiggins had run for 261 yards and passed for 931 for the 4-4 Rams, but he couldn’t find anything in the first quarter and managed 23 yards rushing in the second quarter. Branford coach Tim Clark said the Bucs’ primary emphasis on defense was on putting pressure on Wiggins.

“We knew they like to spread out and throw a bit, so we had to put pressure on the quarterback,” he said. “So we put an emphasis on that this week (in practice), trying to draw up some blitzes and pressures from different directions and hit different gaps. I’m really proud of the kids on how they executed, it was almost flawless on defense.

“We did an outstanding job of getting to him all night.”

The Rams’ offensive threat features a variety of playmakers, but they were all stopped by Branford. There was a steady rain throughout the night, and that contributed in curtailing both teams but Rams coach Matt Yancey didn’t blame the weather for the loss.

“Branford played great up front defensively,” Yancey said. “We have some playmakers, but we couldn’t get out of our own way. We had missed reads and missed assignments. You can’t do that with a team as good as that on defense.”

Colton Leibold

Branford wide receiver Colton Leibold hauls in a pass in between a pair of Interlachen defenders Friday night.

Branford, which received the opening kickoff, got its going on the second play of the game with receiver Colton Leibold taking the snap and running 20 yards to the Buccaneer 40-yard line. Then the senior caught passes for 10 and 12 yards from quarterback Seth Heiderman to put the ball on the Ram 11. Two plays later, Branford tailback Dakota Hamm ran up the middle for a 5-yard touchdown run. Hamm appeared stacked up by the defense but, looking like a rugby scrum, the pile surged across the end zone line to cap the 80-yard drive to put Branford up 7-0.

On Leibold's first catch, he seemed to defy gravity in jumping up for the ball.

Clark said that Leibold works on jumping in the weight room.

“I squat a little bit more than I use to in the weight room,” Leibold said. “I guess that helps a little bit.”

Leibold made plenty of good plays, but not as many as the crowd is use to seeing.

“It’s kinda hard to throw and catch a wet ball so we decided to keep the ball on the ground and be safe,” he added.

Hamm ran four times for 25 yards on the opening drive and tallied 65 yards on nine carries in the first half, but didn’t carry the ball in the second half.

“Right before halftime he got hit pretty hard,” Clark said. “But we’re confident in getting him back for homecoming (in two weeks).”

The Rams were overwhelmed on their first drive which included Branford tackling running back DJ Polite for an 8-yard loss and a 3-yard loss. Polite was the Rams leading rusher entering into the game but couldn’t get anything substantial against the Bucs.

Branford put together another drive, which started at its own 46, with Leibold taking two more snaps as quarterback and running for 14 yards and Heiderman finding Junior Cress on a 24-yard pass play to the Interlachen 16-yard line. After exchanging penalties toward the end of the first quarter Branford had first down on the Ram 5-yard line and Hamm took it in from there for a 14-0 Buccaneer lead on the final play of the period.

After an Interlachen punt, the Rams got the ball right back when Heiderman threw an interception while under pressure.

“We have to credit our defensive backs, we had a fairly good game plan coming in and they executed it,” Yancey said of the Rams’ defense, which finished with two interceptions. “Branford’s got a heck of a ball club on offense, and they’re well coached, they have some great athletes, and I think our kids stepped up to the challenge and slowed them down.”

Still, Interlachen could only manage a 5-yard run and an incompletion in the end zone before Austin Loyd kicked a 42-yard field goal to make it 14-3 with 7:55 left in the half.

After a short punt, the Bucs got the ball with 3:49 left in the half at the Rams’ 39. Branford used Hamm, Leibold and Bodhi White in running the ball down the field. Hamm had a nice 18-yard run when he went right around the corner and Leibold scored on a short run with 37 seconds left in the half for a 20-3 lead.

The Rams finally got on track in the third quarter with Wiggins connecting with Thomas Mack for 22 yards. But another seven-yard tackle for loss on DJ Polite and a delay of game penalty gave the Rams third-and-9 from the Bucs' 47. Wiggins scrambled out of the backfield and slipped on the wet turf a yard short of the first down and the team couldn’t convert on fourth-and-1.

Both teams scored touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Wiggins had two good runs in a row, taking it in from 13 yards out to make it 20-10 with 5:08 left.

Interlachen tried an onside kick but Branford recovered, and running Markell Pugh — who gained 60 yards on 11 carries — ran it in from 24 yards out with 47 seconds left for the final score.

Jeff Shourds is a sports writer for the Suwannee Democrat, Jasper News and Mayo Free Press.

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