Branden Gilyard, playing in his final high school game, scored the Pirates' only touchdown.
Covered in the dirt and sweat a competitor earns from a hard-fought game, Pirates senior Branden Gilyard knelt down on the football field at Matanzas High School for the final time and wiped the tears from his eyes.
The moment is almost surreal: Gilyard’s high school football career is over.
Matanzas (3-7, 2-3) was run over by Pedro Menendez 40-7 in the final game of the regular season on Friday, Nov. 2. The Pirates gave up over 400 yards rushing to the Falcons, including 294 rushing yards and three touchdowns to the Falcons’ 6-foot-3, 212-pound workhorse Tye Edwards.
"It's going to be hard to replace him. But I'm more proud and happy for him moving on. He's worked his butt off, he's transformed his body and he's ready to be a D1 college player. And that's why we do it. I'm not even thinking about how hard it's going to be to replace him."
Don Mathews on senior Branden Gilyard
But for a brief moment in Friday night’s game, it looked like the Pirates would be able to compete. After the Pirates’ defense gave up a 60-yard touchdown run on the game’s opening drive, Gilyard took a handoff from quarterback and fellow senior Josef Powell and ran it in 47 yards for a touchdown on the offense’s second play from scrimmage. The extra point gave Matanzas a brief, 1-point lead.
The Falcons pulled away with 14 points in the second quarter, capped off by a 90-yard touchdown run by Edwards.
Like Gilyard, many of the team’s seniors were emotional after the game.
“High school football, it’s over,” said Gilyard, who finished the game with a team-high 134 rushing yards. “But I’m just grateful for what came with it. There’s been a lot of ups and downs. I’m just happy for the future and ready to go on to the next chapter.”
The Pirates lose 10 players to graduation this year. However, the majority of this year’s team was composed of freshmen and sophomores — many of whom started.
Pirates coach Don Mathews, whose first season as head coach came to an end Friday night, said the future is bright for Matanzas’ football program if the players stick together.
“If people start thinking the grass is greener on the other side, we’ll continue to struggle,” he said. “But I’ll continue to coach the ones who want to be here.”