Brian Branch races upfield on one of his two punt return touchdowns. (Photos by Michael Clifton /

They say football season is a marathon, but the Sandy Creek Patriots jumped out of the starting gates like a world-class sprinter in a 52-0 season-opening win over the Whitewater Wildcats Friday night. 

A star-studded Sandy Creek team showed out from start to finish, showing the preseason hype wasn’t all bluster. 

“We executed everything well. This is what summer workouts are for. We trained for this moment, and it was a great first game,” said Alabama commit and multi-position athlete Brian Branch. “It was a great way to start the season off.”

Whitewater started the game well, with junior Silas Rhodes running for 11 yards on the first snap, but Sandy Creek’s massive defensive line of Justin Beadles, Jordan Mitchell, Jason Adams, and Kaden Ford stiffened up to force a punt and stayed strong all night. 

Branch hauled in the punt and notched a big return, but it was called back. 

The Patriots shook off the first flag, converting a pair of third downs on Matt Williams throws. After a 28-yard pass over the middle from Williams to Miles Thornton, they connected again over the top on a 29-yard touchdown. Williams hit Branch for a two-point conversion and they had a quick 8-0 lead.

Whitewater’s next possession was snuffed out by a high snap bouncing all the way back to their one-yard line, and they were forced to punt from their own end zone. A flag would not stop Branch this time as he returned the punt 40 yards for a touchdown, and David Gonzalez’s extra point made it 15-0. 

The Wildcats’ following series was familiar as they were forced to punt and a Branch touchdown return was negated. The Patriots were unfazed, and Rashad Amos took a handoff on the first snap and rumbled for 42 yards. Williams dropped back on the second snap and lofted a jump ball to Ahmad Jackson for a 12-yard score and a 21-0 lead late in the first quarter. 

Penalties dinged the Patriots early, but Coach Brett Garvin is confident those will not be a consistent problem. 

Miles Thornton hauls in a touchdown pass.

“We’ve got to clean those up, but we’ll get all those things fixed,” he said. “In the second half we came out and kept rolling. We didn’t have a letdown, and we diminished the penalties.”

Branch made his presence felt on offense early in the second quarter with a 31-yard catch and run, but Chris Mitchell got into the backfield to blow up the next series and force a Gonzalez 31-yard field goal.

Whitewater drove out past midfield on their next possession, keyed by a 33-yard Maddox Mueller option keeper, but it stalled. Defensively, the Cats tipped a field goal attempt to grab some momentum, but another three and out sent them back to punt. 

Branch did it one more time, returning the punt for a touchdown, staking his Patriots to a 31-0 lead that held into halftime.

They didn’t let off the gas coming out of the break, and Williams had a huge drive to start the half. He took the first snap 27 yards on a draw and completed a 13-yard pass to Thornton. He finished it off with a 35-yard scoring pass to a sliding Jackson for a 38-0 lead.

Comanche Francisco used his tremendous range to snare an interception and get Sandy Creek the ball back after Whitewater forced their first punt of the night. Williams added another highlight play, escaping pressure and shoveling the ball to Jackson, who raced 28 yards up the sideline, diving for the pylon and a 45-0 lead.

The defense did it again on the next possession, with Beadles stripping the ball and Mitchell pouncing on it. The next play, Thornton took over at quarterback and ran it in for a 19-yard touchdown and the final blow in the 52-0 win. 

Maddox Mueller gets off a pass under pressure from Justin Beadles.

The victory was especially sweet for Williams. The senior quarterback is the undisputed starter for the first time, and he missed spring ball with a broken thumb. He made the golden opportunity count, slicing up the Wildcat defense.

“It felt great. I had two summers basically, so I was itching to get some action, to get my toes wet,” said Williams. “Now I can get my rhythm with back-to-back series.”

More unheralded than some of teammates, Williams relishes the chance to distribute the ball to his array of weapons.

“It’s like trying to choose your favorite candy,” he said with a smile. 

Week one was promising, but Garvin expects even more going forward when they get Cody Jones and South Carolina commit Joey Hunter back healthy.

“I’ll be tickled pink to get those guys back,” he said. “We played really well, but I hope we’ll have a few more bullets in the gun next week.”

Branch is excited to see the full team in action, too.

“When we’re clicking on all cylinders, I don’t think anybody can stop us.”