MOUNDSVILLE - Brooke High School's season-long push at getting over the .500 mark finally met success during a 40-0 blanking of winless John Marshall on a cold and sometimes rainy Friday night at Monarch Stadium.
Staying on the plus side of the ledger and slipping into the West Virginia Class AAA playoffs, however, may present an even bigger challenge for Coach Tom Bruney's Bruins.
At 5-4 with a four-game winning streak to brag about, Brooke closes the regular season at home next Friday night against powerful Morgantown, which improved to 7-2 by knocking off city rival University in the annual MoHawk Bowl last night.
Brooke’s Preston Wise (64) advances after catching a tipped pass at the line during action against John Marshall.
Runners-up in the state during Bruney's first two seasons at the helm, the Bruins would not only need to knock off the Mohigans but also get a little outside help to extend their season.
''Everything now is geared toward that last game, a big one against Morgantown,'' Bruney said. ''Once you get in there (the playoffs), anything can happen. We would like the opportunity to make some noise in November.''
After nearly giving up a score on the opening drive against the Monarchs, Brooke was in complete control. The defense limited John Marshall to 33 yards rushing on 35 carries, sacking quarterback Aaron Fonner five times. Offensively, senior running back Tim Faulkner continued his sparking season by rushing for 153 yards and two scores on 15 attempts, while junior quarterback Alec Buchmelter passed for three touchdowns, two of which were gathered in by senior wideout Gianni Fuscardo.
The opening quarter was kind of a microcosm of John Marshall's season. The Monarchs possessed the ball for 9 of the 12 minutes but by the time the teams changed fields, the scoreboard in the south end of Monarch Stadium had the Bruins in front 13-0.
In JM's most-impressive drive, Fonner led them on a nine-play foray from its 30 to inside the Brooke 15 before disaster struck. Rolling to his right on first down at the 14, Fonner had his arm hit by Faulkner, knocking the ball loose with Cody Rine making the recovery.
From there, it took Brooke six plays and 1:35 of the clock to move 82 yards to go in front 7-0. Faulkner bullied his way for 27 yards and Buchmelter gained 17 on a keeper to put the ball in Monarchs territory. With the ball at the 42, Buchmelter connected on a pass down the middle to Fuscardo, who cut to the outside and raced to the end zone. Austin Graham's placement made it 7-0 with 6:30 remaining in the opening quarter.
Brooke fumbled on its next possion and one play after getting the ball back following a Monarchs punt, the visitors struck again.
Faulkner powered his way through at least two tackle attempts, got to the outside and showed off his speed scooting 61 yards for the score. Although the PAT attempt failed, the Bruins were on top by two touchdowns at the 1:08 mark of the first quarter.
''We moved the ball well at first then we shot ourselves in the foot by making a mistake,'' John Marshall interim coach Bob Triveri said. ''I thought the second quarter was the best defense we played all year.
''We shut them down and then we fumble the ball and they scored before the end of the half. We don't bend, we break.''
With the score still at 13-0 and a little less than a minute remaining before the half, the Monarchs' second fumble was recovered by Cedric McAllister at the JM 45.
A slip-screen connection with Mason Bates put the ball at the 30 and Buchmelter then hit Fuscardo again, this time on a crossing pattern for the touchdown with 20 seconds remaining, putting Brooke up at 19-0 after a pass failed to pick up the 2-point conversion.
Brooke wasted little time extending the lead and putting the game well out of reach when William Miller fielded the second-half kickoff near the right sideline at the 7, blew past the first wave of defenders and raced all the way across the field in front of the Bruins bench to bring the ball back 93 yards for the touchdown.
It was Miller's second touchdown kickoff return of the season and was followed by a Buchmelter run for the 2-point conversion for a 27-0 lead.
The Bruins scored twice more in the third quarter before the subs took over for both teams during the final 12 minutes.
Brooke drove 88 yards on six plays to go up 34-0 with Buchmelter connecting on a deep fade to Heath Hildreth for the final 30 yards, followed by Graham's conversion kick.
Later in the quarter, a 10-play, 60-yard drive was highlighted by a 22-yard sideline toss and run to Fuscardo, whose five catches accounted for 129 yards. Faulkner did the honors from the 1.Graham's PAT try saw the ball bounce off the upright leaving the final count at 40-0.
''We started five weeks ago just focusing on us,'' the pleased Bruney said about Brooke's late-season surge. The only loss during during that span was against undefeated Steubenville. ''I think in the last five games we actually have done a lot better.
''For a while I was afraid we were going to lose them mentally but we never did. They battled back and that is a tribute to this team.''