The game took place during the 1992 season when Jim Reddish was just a freshman on the Stonehill College men’s soccer team.
What happened that day is one of the favorite memories that Reddish has of his former coach, Ernie Branco.
“I remember being a freshman and getting taken out on a breakaway, and the other player got red-carded,’’ said Reddish, a 1996 Stonehill graduate who is now the head coach at his alma mater. “But Ernie got red-carded, too! He was on the field yelling at the player.
“That was Ernie. He always had your back.’’
For 15 seasons, Branco was the head coach at Stonehill, going 151-118-25 and winning four Northeast-10 Conference championships.
The wins and the losses and the titles, however, are not what people recall when the name Ernie Branco is brought up.
It was his spirit and enthusiasm for soccer and for life and the way he loved to interact with people that Branco will long be remembered for.
The death of Branco at the age of 61 in a car accident in Norton early Sunday morning has stunned and saddened all who were fortunate enough to know the native of Portugal and retired educator in Brockton.
He coached at Stonehill from 1984-98, earning a spot in the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2004. Branco stayed involved in the soccer community after leaving Stonehill, working with the teams at Brockton High, running camps for youngsters and doing work for the New England Revolution.
Reddish and Bridgewater State University men’s soccer coach Brendan Adams, who played three seasons for Branco from 1993-95, are among the many with fond memories.
“Just a great, great guy,’’ said Adams of Branco, a member of the New England Soccer Hall of Fame. “He was still sending me and Jimmy recruits.
“I remember the passion he had for the game itself. He was so passionate on the sideline, yelling at players, yelling at referees. He always wanted the best out of you, and he created a family at Stonehill where he always wanted us to watch out for each other.
“For Ernie, every once in a while when I’m coaching, I’ll yell at the refs and do it in that Portuguese accent of his.’’
Reddish learned of Branco’s death while on his way to Stonehill’s annual team banquet on Sunday, a tradition that Branco had started and has continued all these years.
“I kept thinking of him all through that dinner and it was tough,’’ said Reddish. “It was a family atmosphere with that banquet that he started whether it was a good year or a bad year.
“Whenever you bumped into Ernie, he was happy to see you and you were happy to see him. He was passionate on the field as a coach, he worked us hard, but he made you laugh off the field. Everybody liked him.
“They are having calling hours for two days. That shows you the respect for him. We’ve got alums flying in from all over for this, calling with stories about Ernie.’’
Said Adams: “I remember we used to eat as a team at George’s Café before every game. We’d go on a Friday night and the place would be packed. You’d ask the person at the door, ‘Is Ernie Branco here?’ and they’d say, ‘Oh, yeah, Stonehill soccer, right back here,’ and you’d go past this huge line and go in.’’
Branco, who was a placekicker for Bridgewater State and the Middleboro Cobras in the 1970s, took great delight in November 2012 when, on the very same day, his son, Jordan, and daughter, Morgan, won Northeast-10 Conference tournament titles at Southern New Hampshire University.
The two of them had joined their father as NE-10 champs to earn trips to the NCAAs.
“With me coaching all those years and still involved in the game and now seeing my kids have that success, it’s an emotional time,” Branco told me 13 months ago. “How many times does this happen, a son and daughter win championships in the same conference at the same school on the same day? It was just amazing.”
Branco and wife Jennifer had the time of their lives watching their two children win those titles and go to the nationals in the same year.
His days of being a head coach at a Div. 2 college had been over for a while, but Ernie Branco was still enjoying the game of soccer, still enjoying life and still enjoying interacting with people.
“I went over to Brockton High to recruit one year when his son, Jordan, was playing,’’ said Adams. “Ernie was helping doing some coaching, and he was working as the public address announcer at a game in his broken English.
“All of a sudden, he’s up there trying to tell Jordan something down on the field using sign language from the press box. That was Ernie.’’