BRADFORD — It’s been nearly three years since a Bradford Railroaders football team has tasted the sweet fruit of victory.
Finally, during Friday night’s Homecoming game versus the Rams of Cincinnati’s Hillcrest Academy (2-2), the Railroaders were able to pluck that fruit and take a big, savory bite.
Bradford’s 34-18 win marked the first victory of the 2015 season, the first win since Oct. 26, 2012, and the first win for new head coach Nathan Hyatt.
“This is just huge for us,” said Hyatt, the recipient of multiple hugs, fistbumps and handshakes following the game. Tearfully, he handed the gameball, awarded to him by his players, to his wife for safekeeping.
It didn’t look promising for the Railroaders during the first quarter of the game, though.
Less than five minutes in, the Rams had burned the Railroaders for two long touchdown runs and a 12-0 lead.
The Bradford squad, however, soon found its bearings on defense, and a bad punt by Hillcrest gave the Railroaders the ball at the Rams’ 15-yard-line.
Running back Mason Justice soon turned excellent field position into points, running into the endzone from 1 yard out to give the Railroaders their first touchdown at the beginning of the second quarter.
“All week we stressed to our team that this was a 48-minute game,” Hyatt said. “After they scored on us, we widened out our defense some, and that helped us. It helped neutralize their speed on offense.”
An interception by defensive back Tyler Gunter helped set up the Railroaders’ second score, another Justice run. With a successful 2-point conversion, Bradford took the lead 14-12.
A third touchdown by Justice and a 2-point conversion by quarterback Andrew Branson with 1:31 remaining in the half put the Railroaders up 22-12 before heading to the locker room.
The story remained largely the same in the second half, with tough play by the Railroaders’ defense and a Hillcrest team that often stymied itself with costly penalties, including a number of personal fouls.
A 35-yard sideline pass from Branson to Gunter three minutes into the third quarter increased the Railroaders’ lead 28-12.
In the fourth quarter, the Railroaders put their finishing touches on the win with a 27-yard Bryson Canan touchdown run to make it 34-12. An extra point kick attempt was good, but was negated by an illegal formation penalty. A subsequent 2-point conversion attempt failed.
Hillcrest scored a late touchdown with just under three minutes left in the game to make it 34-18. From thereon, the Railroaders ran out the clock.
Amid receiving congratulations following the game, Hyatt took time to praise the effort and perseverance of his players.
“These kids got up at four in the morning, every morning, this summer. They played their hearts out,” he said.
“I can’t tell you how much I respect them,” he added. “They did such a great job.”
The Bradford Railroaders (1-3) next face the Northridge Vikings (4-2) at home Sept. 26.