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Broncos battle Raiders for last-minute boys soccer victory

The Almont Raiders struck first, but the North Branch Broncos answered with four consecutive goals to close the first half in last night’s boys BWAC soccer matchup.

“Honestly, I saw a tale of two halves,” Raiders head coach Martin Camaj said. “The first half was a little lackadaisical, kind of reactive instead of proactive, but the second half, I dont know if it was just a switch or what, but they listened in the second half and they worked their tails off.”

North Branch's Landen Swoish prepares to steal the ball in Wednesday's soccer match against Almont.

North Branch senior Landen Swoish had scored his third goal of the night within the first two minutes of the second half as if to seal an easy victory for the Broncos with a 5-1 lead. But as Camaj said, it was like a switch had been flipped around the 30-minute mark as sophomore Pjeter Lucaj ended Almont’s drought. The pace had quickend, the intensity increased, and it was now 5-2.

Lucaj netted one more about 10 minutes later. And fighting until the very end, freshman Bashkim Sinishtaj – who had scored Almont’s first goal – bounced another one in through a crowded net.

Almont's Pjeter Lucaj and North Branch's Ethan Dinanath race to the ball.

It had gone from a 5-1 steal for the Broncos to a 5-4 game with three minutes remaining.

North Branch slowed the pace a bit to secure its victory and extend its BWAC record to 2-0.

“We’re doing pretty well,” Broncos head coach John Burke said. “I wasn’t sure how we’d do against Almont because they’ve had good results…but I think we’re looking pretty good.”

Along with Swoish’s hat trick, sophomore Justyn Howland and junior Leyton Hutchins each recorded a goal and sophomore Evan Cook had two assists. Burke said between Swoish’s leadership and his team’s chemistry, the Broncos offense is off to a good start this season.

“We’re pretty widespread offensively,” Burke said. “We can always count on Landen, but obviously he can get the ball to people too, and he takes away the focus on the other kids which helps out a lot.”

“Just to come out here and play with the guys and feed them the ball to get them goals and get the team W in the end, that’s all you can really ask for,” Swoish said. “[Hutchins and I] have been playing together since my sophomore year, his freshman year, and sometimes we have our moments when we argue with each other, but I feel like that’s for the better. We get the best out of each other and score goals in the end.”

And leading the North Branch defense is a rather small but effective freshman, Joel Bruman, who makes his presence known in the net. He had 10 saves in last night’s win.

Freshman Joel Bruman defends the Broncos net in Wednesday's soccer match against Almont.

“[Bruman] does well,” Burke said. “He’s kind of learning the position as he goes along. He’s learning decision making and that, but he’s doing well.”

As for Almont, Camaj said he expects a lot growth from his young squad. With only one senior, three juniors, and a handful of underclassmen, there’s no doubt the Raiders will only continue to improve this fall.

“They did great,” Camaj said of Lucaj and Sinishtaj. “They’re both underclassmen and hard workers. They gave everything and I’m excited to see what happens because we have such a young group…[I expect] to just be competitive every game and keep working hard and improving.”

The Raiders are now 2-2 on the season with a non-conference match against Birch Run set for Saturday, and the Broncos, now 3-1, will return to action on Monday against Durand.

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