The Helmet

Lafayette rallied past Branford to keep possession of 'The Helmet.'

BRANFORD — Kept in check most of the night, Lafayette’s high-octane offense found its gear just in time Friday night to keep “The Helmet” away from rival Branford.

The Hornets scored three touchdowns in the second half to rally past the Buccaneers 29-26 at Cleve Sikes Field at Buccaneer Stadium, winning the rivalry game for the 10th straight year.

Trailing 26-7, the Hornets (6-0) broke through on quarterback Jaxson Beach's first touchdown run in the third quarter.

Following, an interception by Nic'Kel Freeman, Lafayette got the ball back on its 40-yard line. Beach then ran for 16 yards, and all that tough running up the middle paid off when Beach broke free on his 19th run of the night, to score from 45 yards out with 9:18 left in the game to pull within one score.

"Eventually he just stepped up," Branford coach Tim Clark said of Beach, who the Bucs had bottled up for most of the night. "He said he was going to run it hard and he did."

While the Bucs (3-3) picked up a first down on the ensuing possession on a Seth Heiderman pass to Clay Williams, a penalty helped force Branford into a punt with LHS taking possession at its own 30 with 6:23 remaining.

The Hornets finally got a big pass play from Beach, who found Freeman behind defenders on a 46-yard TD pass. Breaking school passing records the past two weeks, Beach only completed 10 passes for 113 yards Friday. A 2-point conversion put Lafayette up 29-26 with 5:38 to play.

But Branford's Leibold electrified the crowd with a 37-yard kickoff return to the LHS 38-yard line. Leibold had already caught passes of 22 and 30 yards and a 65-yarder for a touchdown. But on the first play Branford fumbled and LHS took over at its 37-yard line to hang on to its 10th straight win in the rivalry.

"Second half we played very well minus a few snaps that ended up costing us the game," Clark said. "And we ran out of gas from having to play so much defense."

Branford scored four straight touchdowns in the first three quarters to take a 26-7 lead.

"We knew we had to be very aggressive defensively," Clark said about keeping the Hornets' offense in check. "You can't take away everything because they're so good in a lot of phases.

"We picked an aspect of their offense that we could match up the best with. And that was in the permitter, their quick-passing game. So we took that away and did an outstanding job of that."

The first came on the first play of the Bucs’ second possession when Heiderman found Leibold open on a long pass down the sideline with a precise throw. A missed extra point made it 7-6 Lafayette.

The Hornets came back with Beach moving the offense on a roll-out strike to Freeman, a nine-yard run by Mario Thomas and some runs up the middle from Beach, who carried the ball 24 times for 206 yards with the two scores to close within two of Garris Edwards’ school record for rushing touchdowns. The drive, though, ended when Beach fumbled fighting for extra yardage near the end zone with 48 seconds left in the first quarter. 

LHS coach Mark Beach said he didn’t want to run Jaxson Beach that much, but credited Branford’s defense for making things had on the Hornets.

"That team played great,” he said.

On the Hornets’ next drive, the offense was hampered by two drops.

Branford scored next on a 3-yard run by Heiderman on fourth-and-goal, which came after an earlier six-yard run to convert a fourth-and-4.

Heiderman completed 9 of 17 pass attempts for 210 yards with two touchdown passes and one interception.

On the Bucs’ last scoring drive of the half, Leibold had a 11-yard pass completion to Kyson Johnson and a gem of a catch for 30 yards. They scored with six seconds left in the half on a 3-yard run by Dakota Hamm, who finished with 65 yards on 14 carries.

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

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