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Sweet Water to defend crown with 34-7 win over Linden

The Bulldogs braved an early emotionally-charged Patriot onslaught to punch their ticket to the Super Six with a 34-7 win over previously undefeated Linden (13-1) Friday night.

“We thought they would come out very emotional,” Sweet Water head coach Stacy Luker said of the Patriots. “We knew we would have to weather the emotions of the first six to eight minutes and we did.”

The field at Nolan Atkins showed it would become a factor early when return man Ajalon Bruno lost his footing twice on the opening kickoff.

Undaunted, the Patriots handed the ball to Shantrell Braxton on the first play from scrimmage. The senior bounced it to the weak side and hit the sideline for an 85-yard touchdown run that put LHS up 7-0.

After returning the ensuing kick to their own 45, the Bulldogs appeared poised to answer until their first drive stalled at the Patriot 22.

“We had to figure out which way they were slanting,” Luker said of his team’s early offensive strategy. The Bulldogs used 10 plays to push the ball to the cusp of the red zone before turning it over on downs.

Linden continued to ride its emotional high as Braxton bounced weak side again on first down for a nine-yard gain before a mishap in the backfield one snap later put the ball on the ground.

Sweet Water’s Ryan Preston came up with the fumble to hand his team possession at the LHS 29.

The Bulldogs then utilized a steady rotation of Jeremy Landrum and Chris Landrum on a seven-play drive that culminated with the latter striking from nine yards out for SWHS’ first score of the game.

The wet turf became a factor again as the Bulldogs were unable to get the extra point attempt off.

Three plays into their next possession, the Patriots fumbled again.

“The main thing is the team that settled down, that knew how to handle the elements, that was going to be the team that won,” Linden head coach Andro Williams said.

Sweet Water came up with the ball at the LHS 20, but proved incapable of advancing it before fumbling it away on a fourth down try to end the series.

“We put the ball on the ground here and there and had some miscues, but our team didn’t quit,” Williams said.

His team put the ball on the ground again three plays later as Delano Brewer came up with it at the Linden 32 to set the Bulldog offense up.

On the second play of the possession, Sweet Water tested the air for the first time when senior Damaraquis Williams flung the ball to the front corner of the end zone where senior Antonio Landrum lept over Bruno to pull down the 32-yard scoring pass. The Bulldogs’ two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving them with the 12-7 lead.

Linden then assembled its longest drive of the night as it used 12 plays to advance to the Sweet Water 29 before a last-ditch pass from Bruno fell to the turf to end the half.

The second half started ominously for the Patriots when Sweet Water junior Johnny Lockett returned the opening kick 42 yards to the Linden 38. Lockett finished what he started seven plays later when he strolled into the end zone from five yards out to stretch the lead to 18-7.

Linden took over after the kick with its best starting field position of the night at its own 37. Three plays later, the Patriots coughed the ball up again at midfield.

After stopping the Bulldog drive, the Patriots took over at their own 20 following a touchback. Mustering only five yards on three plays, conditions played a factor again when the ball rolled off of the Patriot punter’s foot and settled at the LHS 20.

From there, Sweet Water went to work again. Four straight Chris Landrum runs set up a Damaraquis Williams touchdown run from a yard out to stretch it to 26-7 following the two-point conversion run.

“We played good defense. I was proud of our guys defensively,” Andro Williams said. “They didn’t quit ever. I’ll go to battle with them any time, all 29.”

Sweet Water added a Chris Landrum touchdown and a two-point conversion late to round out the scoring.

“I think our experiences helped us,” Luker said. “I felt like the team that handled the conditions would win the game.”

Lockett led SWHS with 94 yards on 19 carries. Braxton had 109 yards for the Patriots. Tate finished with 83 yards, rounding out his year with 2,329 yards and 43 total touchdowns. That leaves him tied for second all time for the most touchdowns scored in a single season.

“Tremendous year,” Luker said of the Patriots’ run. “Andro is a great football coach. He has done great things with that football program.”

Sweet Water will play Speake Friday at 3 p.m.