By Pat Turner
After missing the playoffs in 2017, Brandeis is making up for lost time in this year’s post-season.
While pulling off victories, the Broncos are keeping things exciting by creating big plays, holding off rallies and staging comebacks.
The Broncos, who began the trek with a come-from-behind victory over Churchill and warded off a comeback attempt by Steele, took excitement to a higher level this past Saturday as they used second-half magic to erase a 19-point deficit for a 33-32 regional semifinals victory over Brownsville Hanna in the Alamodome.
Now, Brandeis plays Austin Westlake for the Region IV championship at 6 p.m. Saturday in the Alamodome.
“We wanted to be in the playoffs this year,” said linebacker Brent Malone, who played a key role in helping the Broncos seal the deal with his defensive stops at the end. “When the season ended last year, we made a solid effort to really grow as a team. I think that prepared us for this year. We want to make sure we keep it up.”
Although the performance might not have been pretty at times with the breakdowns and mistakes, Brandeis coach David Branscom was thrilled with the end result triggered by his players’ determination.
“These kids just keep fighting,” Branscom said. “We did some uncharacteristic things from time to time that happens from a young football team. We started doing things right and making plays. I am really proud of the results they kept bringing.”
Brandeis (11-2) had the usual offensive spark with quarterback Jordan Battles passing for 164 yards and three touchdowns and rambling for 169 yards and two scores. Big plays also came from receivers Brandon Pake, Cristian Medina, Josh Suarez and J. Nova Rangel.
Backed by quarterback Victor Campos, who threw for 286 yards and a touchdown, the Eagles vaulted to a 20-7 halftime lead and tacked on another TD on their first possession of the second half.
Brandeis moved the ball in the first half, but the only touchdown came on Battles’ 44-yard touchdown pass to Medina that tied the score at 7-7. That strike was set up by Mark Lara’s fumble recovery, which came after Hanna stopped the Broncos’ fourth-and-3 attempt.
Despite being down 26-7, the Broncos remained calm under pressure and took their comeback one step at a time.
“We just weren’t making plays in the first half,” Battles said. “We came out and fought. We stayed motivated on the sidelines. Football is a game of inches. You play every play. That’s what we came out and did.”
A big step came from Battles, who struck for a 36-yard touchdown run and capped a 54-yard drive on a 4-yard scamper into the end zone.
Hanna regained a two-possession lead (32-20) with Campos’ 16-yard keeper, but the Broncos came firing back quickly.
Battles started with a 22-yard pass to Medina and then hurled a 34-yard touchdown pass to Josh Suarez, bringing the Broncos within 32-27 with 9:33 remaining.
The real excitement for Brandeis came a few minutes late after a Hanna punt put the Broncos at their 6-yard line.
The Broncos didn’t stay in that hole too long. Brett Mathis tossed a 23-yard halfback pass to Pake and Battles followed with a 17-yard sprint.
After Battles’ 21-yard pass to Rangel put Brandeis at the Hanna 14, the Broncos’ quarterback delivered what proved to be the game winner – a 9-yard TD toss to Pake with 3:52 remaining.
“We have a fire on this team,” Pake said. “We can always see that bonfire. We always have that fight. We had to stay and collected to drive down for a touchdown. That’s what we did.”
Thanks to a broken-up pass by Mark Lara, who also halted a first-half Hanna scoring opportunity with a fumble recovery, and combined sack by Malone and Kristopher Garza, the Broncos prevailed.
“(Hanna) was tremendous on offense,” Malone said. “We had to make plays. Our team chemistry carried us. We had great calls from our defensive coach.”
Now, the Broncos have an opportunity to do something extra special in their matchup with Westlake. A victory there would give Brandeis its first region title since 2009 when the Broncos lost a 14-7 5A Division II decision to New Braunfels in a Division II 5A match.
“This is phenomenal,” Branscom said. “This is great for our school and the Brandeis community. It’s been so special to see them become a team of destiny.”
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