GARDEN VALLEY — A kickoff return and three consecutive penalties played in favor of the Golden Sierra High football team in Friday’s CIF Sac-Jouaquin Section Division V game against Le Grand — a faked field goal didn’t.
In the end, the visiting Bulldogs, the defending section champions, edged the Grizzlies, 24-22.
The loss ends a 6-win run for Golden Sierra (7-4), which won the Sierra Delta River League title, the first-ever time in school history the Griz have been perfect in league. Le Grand returns to the finals to face Southern League foe Waterford, which beat Highlands, 28-12.
Le Grand running back Ryan Martinez scored on a 5-yard run with 3:33 left to cushion the Bulldogs’ lead to 24-15. After a 20-minute delay in which paramedics tended to injured Bulldog lineman Martin Zaragoza, Golden Sierra head coach John Hilton rallied his players.
“I said to them that we have three and a half minutes left, and it’s very important that we play hard for those three and a half minutes because you never know what’s going to happen,” Hilton said. “Champions don’t stop playing.”
Grizzlies wide receiver Gracen Christiansen grabbed the ensuing kickoff, ran up the middle, passed up four Bulldog tacklers and kept running straight ahead for a 95-yard touchdown with 3:16 left. Quarterback Bryson Campbell booted the extra-point to trim the Bulldogs’ lead to the final score.
Le Grand got the ball back after the Grizzlies tried for an onside kick. But the Bulldogs were penalized three penalties before each play; holding, offsides and delay of game that pushed the ball back to their own 28. On the punt return, the Grizzlies started what they hoped would be a come-from-behind drive from their own 13-yard line.
Campbell completed a 26-yard pass to Daniel Lesher on the first play that moved the ball to the Bulldogs’ 46-yard line. Campbell threw an incomplete pass on the next play, but the Bulldogs were whistled for pass interference. Campbell completed 12 and 16-yard passes to Lesher and Dominic Chamberlain to move the ball to the Bulldogs’ 18-yard line but a loss of 8 yards on a rushing play moved the Grizzlies back to the 26.
On fourth-and-11, the Grizzlies lined up for a 43-yard field goal. Grizzly running back Adam Sewell, the place-holder, took the ball on the fake field goal and attempted to run for a first down before a group of Bulldogs pushed him out-of-bounds near the 25-yard line, turning the ball over to Le Grand which secured the win.
“I think the last three and a half minutes was probably the best example of character that this team has,” Hilton said. “They never quit. They played the game for the love of it.”
Le Grand head coach Rick Martinez added, “Hats off to the Golden Sierra staff.”
Golden Sierra scored on its first offensive drive in the first quarter. Christiansen, on a halfback option pass, hit wide receiver Cameron Stephens on a 32-yard strike to move the ball to the Bulldogs’ 16-yard line. Three plays later, Sewell scored on a 7-yard run with 9:02 left. Campbell ran in the 2-point conversion to give the Grizzlies an 8-0 lead.
“We needed some other people to come in, step up and take the roles on offense and defense, and one of them was Gracen,” said Hilton of the 6-foot receiver who also plays defensive back. “He’s the kind of kid who is a gamer.”
The Bulldogs trimed the lead to 8-7 in the second quarter when quarterback Mauricio Contreras hit wide receiver Shane Grissom on a 4-yard pass with 11:41 left. Golden Sierra increased its lead to 15-7 with 1:30 left in the half when Campbell scored on a 59-yard run and booted the extra-point.
In the third quarter with 6:04 left, the Bulldogs cut the Grizzlies’ lead to 15-10 when Daniel Rosas kicked a 45-yard field goal. Le Grand took the lead for good at 18-15 in the fourth quarter with 8:46 left when Contreras rolled out and struck wide receiver Christian Williams for a 69-yard score.
Contact Mike Bush at 530-344-5079 or [email protected] Follow @MBushMtDemo on Twitter.