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Linden eclipses Sunshine

NEWBERN — Shantrell Braxton broke loose for four touchdowns — three in the second half — and Maurice Tate added another, despite being hampered by the Sunshine defense, as the visiting Linden Patriots maintained its unblemished record with a 35-6 win over the homestanding Tigers.

The win pushes Linden’s record to 7-0 overall, 6-0 in Class 1A Region 3. Sunshine falls to 1-6 overall, 1-5 in 1A-3 play.

“Ajalon Bruno showed a lot of heart,” said LHS second-year head coach Andro Williams, who pushed his record at Linden to 17-3. “I’m real proud of him, the fact that he didn’t give up on the play.

“It was a game with a lot of mistakes early on. I thought we came out a little flat. We played that way at home early in the season. We’re going to work and practice and try to get better. We had a lot of penalties, a lot of mental mistakes. We still moved the ball well; we just have to get better.”

Braxton got things started with a 57-yard run for a touchdown with 1:36 left in the first quarter. The two-point pass conversion gave the Patriots an 8-0 lead.

Tate got into the act with a one-yard push into the endzone early in the second quarter. The point-after kick by Gerald Bruno gave LHS a 15-0 lead.

On the ensuing kickoff, Nathaniel Zinnerman found an open seam and ran the distance, a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The extra-point attempt failed, but the Tigers had narrowed the gap to 15-6, where the score remained until halftime.

On Linden’s second play from scrimmage in the second half, Braxton took a 62-yard run across the goal line to score his second TD of the game. Bruno’s extra-point kick gave the Patriots a 22-6 lead with 10:58 left in the third quarter.

Sunshine extended a drive when Linden was flagged for roughing the punter, but the Tigers were unable to push any further and were forced to punt. The punt was blocked by Terris Lewis, who pounced on the ball at the SHS 8-yard line.

On Linden’s first play, Tate lumbered six yards to the 2, but fumbled the ball into the endzone, where Sunshine recovered.

The Tigers began a drive in earnest, using a 20-yard pass from Jermaine Hood to Nicholas Bryant to get to the SHS 44, then a 13-yard run by Shaunquille McCalpine to cross midfield.

McCalpine ran just under 10 yards on the next play — just inches from a first down — but quarterback Hood was pressured on the next two plays, and Sunshine was forced to punt from the LHS 33.

After an exchange of drives, Linden started near midfield and marched the ball down the field, capping the drive with a 19-yard touchdown run by Braxton, giving the Patriots a 28-6 lead with 10:12 left in the fourth quarter.

On its next drive, LHS started from the Tiger 39-yard line. Braxton scored his fourth TD of the game on a 28-yard run, and Bruno’s extra-point kick ended the scoring at 35-6 with 5:01 left in the game.

On Sunshine’s second play following the kickoff, Hood found Bryant on an 80-yard pass play down the far sideline. Bryant was on his way to another Tiger score, but Linden’s Ajalon Bruno caught up to him and wrapped him up, forcing Bryant to fumble the ball at the LHS 3-yard line. Linden recovered the ball with 3:50 remaining, and killed off the rest of the clock to notch the win.

“We knew that they had the two best backs in the state,” said SHS head coach Jonathan Jenkins. “Without a doubt, Braxton proved that he was one of the top two. Well felt like if we could control the line of scrimmage — and early on, we did — that we would have a chance. Tate was the one we got under control, but I just hand it to Braxton: he knows how to shift gears. He’d turn that corner at about half-speed, and then three-quarters, and then shift into full speed.

“We pretty much kept them from passing all night long. They only threw twice that I can remember, and we sacked the quarterback three times. Controlling the line was our object tonight, and it was the first night all year that we had done that. Win or lose, we were playing the No. 4 team in the state. But, we fought hard, and we didn’t give up. We were still trying to score with two minutes to go. Our passing game looked good, and the running game to the left side and the middle looked good.”

Linden returns home on Friday to face regional rival John Essex, while Sunshine visits Region 3 foe Akron.