Michael Branch did whatever he pleased Saturday in Monett's season opener. In front of a raucous crowd decked out in their finest tropic-themed wear, the senior punched in three first-quarter touchdowns and at one point in the second half tallied three consecutive sacks in a 34-6 Cubs win over California.
“It felt amazing,” Branch said. “Season opener as a senior. Winning against a team like [California] is really fun.”
Monett led 20-0 after the first quarter thanks to Branch touchdown scampers of two, seven and thirteen yards. The second of those scores was set up by Brody Crawford, who scooped up a fumble at midfield and took it to the California seven yard line before being taken down.
Crawford put the Cubs up 27-0 with a sweep left from three yards out late in the first half.
The story Saturday night was Branch, who showed every bit of power, finesse and speed necessary to cement his status after just one week as an impact player. His three touchdowns came on consecutive touches thanks to favorable field position.
“I’m a lot better than last year,” Branch said. “Last year, when I was playing or running the ball, I wasn’t as agile or big. The O-Zone actually said that I was really slow. So I worked on agility and speed, and if you saw me running down the field, I was running and breaking tackles. I worked my tail off this summer to do that.”
There’s plenty of hype surrounding Monett just a year after making a run to the Class 3 semifinals. If any pressure comes with that, the Cubs aren’t showing it early.
“As a coach, we’re telling them it’s one game at a time,” Monett coach Derek Uhl said. “Don’t listen to the hype. We haven’t done anything yet.”
The Pintos ended the shutout with 9:08 remaining in the third quarter after Jacob Wolken connected with Jacob Adams for a 25-yard touchdown. Monett blocked the point after, keeping the score at 27-6. Wolken was under pressure from the Monett defense all night, facing at least 12 quarterback hurries.
Mason Swearingen scored from three yards out for Monett midway through the third quarter.
Branch finished the first half with 86 yards and was well over 100 on the ground by the end of the fourth quarter.
“[Branch] was consistently showing up to everything [this summer],” Uhl said. “Even stuff he wasn’t supposed to show up to.
“The one thing is he’s believing in himself. He’s always been a big, strong kid. But now, with the extra work (he put in), he’s believing that he’s that big strong kid. He’s not a little boy.”
Monett visits Rogersville on a short week Friday at 7 p.m.