YORK — Because Bruton is the only 2A football team in a Bay Rivers District of 3A and 4A schools, it can be difficult to get gauge how the Panthers are progressing.
Bruton (1-4) won its season opener over King William - the only 2A school on the Panthers’ schedule – and followed that with four consecutive district losses, including Monday night’s 31-20 defeat at Tabb (3-2).
Bruton coach Reggie Jones prefers applying the "football is football" mindset.
"If we don’t take care of the football," Jones said, "if we don’t capitalize on mistakes, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing; We’re going to lose the game."
In each of their four losses – to Smithfield, Grafton, New Kent, and Tabb - the Panthers have been able to find positives. They’ve been in every game going into the third quarter and lost to New Kent on a field goal just before time expired.
On Monday, Bruton led Tabb 20-17 at halftime.
A change in quarterbacks helped spur the Tigers’ comeback win at Bailey Field.
Alec Kurek completed three key passes in a third-quarter drive the Tigers (3-2, 3-1 district) used to take the lead, before the defense and running game sealed the win.
"We finished," Tabb coach Matt Lawson said. "The defense continued to play hard and Alec was able come out, get back on track and get back to his old self."
Kurek, who missed all but a few plays of the first four games because of a concussion he sustained during the preseason, tripped over a running back for a 7-yard loss to end his first series at the start of the second half. Bruton subsequently went three-and-out, but Daniel Jones’ 39-yard punt pinned Tabb at its 2-yard line.
Kurek drove the Tigers downfield, completing passes for 15 yards to Zach Wusk, 67 yards to freshman Zach Coldsnow and 18 yards and a touchdown to Tyson Jackson. That gave the Tigers a 24-20 lead with 7:55 to play in the third quarter.
Tabb’s defense forced the Panthers to punt on their next two possessions, with Demetrius Bagwell returning the second one 22 yards to the Bruton 36 with eight minutes to play. The Tigers covered the 36 yards on seven plays, with Rodney Haggins (74 yards rushing) running the final 10 yards for the game-clinching score with five minutes remaining.
"We’re getting better and having a lot of bright spots," Reggie Jones said. "We’re doing a lot of things correctly. We’re just not able to do it the entire game. It can come down to three or four plays and those three or four plays make a difference. They affect the outcome of the game."
Those wire-to-wire performances often eluded Bruton last year, too. Still, after a two-win regular season, the Panthers were able to make the state playoffs based on their standing in the Virginia High School League ratings system.They exited with a first-round loss at Riverheads High in Staunton.
Bruton should have at least a good chance of cracking the 2A playoff field again this year if it can get one or two more wins out of its remaining schedule that includes York, Jamestown, Poquoson, Lafayette, and Warhill.
The Panthers have had strong play out of their linebackers on their side. Reggie Jones praised the play of Ian Gruver, Daniel Jones, Dailon Donley, and Felix Amon.
That group will contribute to what Reggie Jones thinks could be a low-scoring, defensive type of game against 3A York.
"The defense has been a real bright spot for us," Reggie Jones said. "We just can’t have the defense playing that many snaps. But the offense has been getting better. We’ve been moving the ball the last two games."
Bruton will play on just three days rest since the Tabb game was played as a makeup Monday following a weather-induced postponement last Friday. York, meanwhile, last played last Thursday in a 40-0 loss to Lafayette.
For Bruton, the game represents another chance for to turn the corner and put a complete game together, no matter the opponent’s classification.
- Marty O'Brien contributed to this report.
TABB 31, BRUTON 20
Bruton: 6, 14, 0, 0 - 20
Tabb: 10, 7, 7, 7 - 31
Bru: Taylor 18 punt return (kick blocked), 7:02
Tabb: Southard 45 pass from Marks (Henderson kick), 4:02
Tabb: FG Henderson 27, :35
Bru: Carr 59 punt return (Malik kick), 7:59
Tabb: Haggins 5 run (Henderson kick), 2:30
Bru: Jones 54 run (Malik kick), 1:09
Tabb: Jackson 18 pass from Kurek (Henderson kick), 7:55
Tabb: Haggins 10 run (Henderson kick), 5:00
First downs: 7; 11
Passing yards: 62; 140
Comp-Att-Int: 5-11-0; 5-10-1
Penalties-yards: 4-23; 6-31
Punts-avg: 3-37.7; 3-24.7
Fumbles-lost: 3-2; 1-0