Some teams might have folded under the strange, early game situation the Broad Run High football team found itself in during last Saturday’s state AA championship game against Amherst County. But the Spartans barely flinched on way to their 13-0 title game win in Lynchburg.
The unusual circumstance occurred when Broad Run junior running back TJ Peeler unintentionally stopped short of the end zone on an off tackle play from the Amherst 19-yard line. Peeler, on the second-and-5 play, burst through the line and into open territory. He was heading toward the end zone with no chance of being stopped when, suddenly, he slowed down and raised the football over his head with his right hand in triumph. He then set the ball down on the ground where Amherst defensive back Chris McDaniels fell on it at the 6-yard line. The whistle blew to end the play, then the game referees gathered for a few seconds to discuss the unusual play. They indicated it was Amherst’s possession as a result of the unorthodox turnover.
Peeler’s mistake was the result of believing he had crossed into the end zone when, in fact, he had stopped short of it. Falling snow, which had begun more than an hour before the game, had covered the Liberty University synthetic turf field to the point where the numerical yard lines were no longer visible. So Peeler, on the play, which looked like it would result in a touchdown on the game’s first possession, had gotten confused as to where he was.
The snow, in fact, caused problems throughout the game. Often, the referees had to be more deliberate in their marking of the football after plays and penalties because they could not see the numbers on the field. And the public address announcer, late in the game, had no idea where the ball was at times.
<b>AS IT TURNED</b> out, there were no worries for Peeler and the Spartans following his unintended, gift turnover as Broad Run thoroughly outplayed its opponent to garner the program’s first state football title.
Both of Broad Run’s touchdowns came late in each half. The first broke a scoreless tie with 13 seconds remaining in the first half when quarterback Chris Jessop hit wide receiver Adrian Flemming on a 10-yard fade pattern in the left corner of the end zone. The second and final touchdown came in the game’s final minute of play when running back Breon Earl, a on a fourth-down play, scored off a pitchout from 3 yards out to put the finishing touches on the win.
Peeler, for his part, had a good game, rushing the ball 17 times for 65 yards. So many times over the course of the season, he and backfield mate Earl put together huge games to help the Spartans win games. On this day of the state championship, Peeler’s teammates helped pick him up following his early game mistake.
Broad Run senior linebacker Mikey Cotton said after the game that the Spartans had two ways of reacting to Peeler’s miscue, "We could get down on ourselves or go out and play defense."
The Spartans did the latter and Amherst never posted points the entire game.
Broad Run senior lineman Shawn Lewis said the fact that, on the game’s first possession, the Spartans had moved the ball so effectively from its own 36-yard line to the Amherst 19 in just eight plays gave the Spartans confidence, even if that first possession had resulted in a gift turnover.
"At first we were a little down, but we had drove the ball on them on our first drive and knew we could do it again," Lewis said.
Of that first Broad Run drive, Spartan senior tight end Kevin Sandersen said, "We pounded the ball at them and drove all the way down. [The turnover] was just an unlikely play. Coach [Mike Burnett] said not to worry about it."
<b>AMHERST</b>, after Peeler’s mistake turnover, initially used the momentum to move the football, driving to the Broad Run 46 over 15 plays as the game moved into the second quarter. But the Lancers eventually had to punt.
"We reacted to it pretty well," Jessop said of the missed opportunity on the Spartans’ first drive. "It was definitely an adverse situation. TJ was fine. He’s a warrior."
Coach Burnett brushed aside the scenario, saying things like that happen in sports and that Peeler’s teammates were there to pick him up.
"The guys are there for each other," he said. "That’s life. When you love somebody you don’t care when they make a mistake."
Indeed, Peeler’s teammates made things right. Had Broad Run lost the game, Peeler likely would have had a tough time putting that early game mistake behind him. But as it is, Broad Run overcame it and won as a team. And Peeler is a part of that great, 14-0 team.