SAN ANDREAS — Two late fourth-quarter interceptions by host Calaveras High stopped the Union Mine football team’s comeback bid in its tracks Friday as the Redskins held on to the 28-21 victory to end the Diamondbacks’ season a win away from playing for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV title.
Overall, Union Mine had four passes picked off en route to finishing 10-2 on the season. Calaveras, which successfully grounded the D’backs’ vaunted rushing attack in the second half, improved to 10-3 and will play Escalon for the championship.
“Even though we didn’t play particularly well we still had our chances. But every time we got a break we’d give it back,” Union Mine coach Dave Johnson said. “They’re (Redskins) a good team, as physical as us, and shut down our running game with nine in the box which forced us to throw — and you saw the result. The little mistakes killed us but we’re young and hopefully we’ll learn from this.”
The first half was a wide open affair as the D’backs mixed the pass and run well while Calaveras found success through the air but the game changed in the second half. The Redskins turned running back Monti Wilson loose and completely controlled the clock. Calaveras broke a 21-all tie after it took the second-half kickoff, drove 60 yards and let Wilson cover the last 15 for the evening’s final points.
While the offense spun its wheels in the midfield, Union Mine’s defense had to dig in to prevent the Redskins from extending their lead. Cameron Chima stuck Connor Seawell for a 2-yard loss to force a punt early in the third, Shane O’Leary batted away a pass in the fourth and several plays later, Cody Tow sacked Calaveras quarterback Garrett Bock on fourth down at the D’back 29 with 5:35 left.
Eager to go down and tie or take the lead, Union Mine jumped the gun on its first play and was penalized 5 yards. On the next play, Redskin Chris Ussery intercepted D’back quarterback Graham Bennett at the 40 and brought it back to the 23. Again the D’backs dug in and caught a break when Bock pitched to an empty backfield on the option and Wilson fell on it after a 10-yard loss.
On fourth-and-long from the 25, Bock passed into coverage and Ron Eddy intercepted inside the 5 to give possession back to Union Mine with 3:40 left. This time, the D’backs moved as Bennett hit Beau Bridge on a slant for 10, found Jeremy Rodriquez to the right for 17 and swung a pass to the left to Tow for 19 more.
Teaming with momentum, another jump cost Union Mine 5 yards and on the next play Bennett overthrew his target and Wilson intercepted to end the D’backs’ chances with 1:47 left. After several runs and a couple knees, it was over.
“I just didn’t make good decisions at the right times,” said Bennett, who did suffer a drop on a deep sideline route in the third quarter that might have tied the game. “This is the best team we’ve played and they hit us in the mouth and it took a while to respond. In the second half they pounded it out and we didn’t — no excuses — we just didn’t step up.”
All was well to open the game as Union Mine scored on its first possession. The key play came as Bennett looked right and came back left with a swing pass to Sean Tow, who motored down to the Calaveras 5. On the next snap, Sean went off right tackle, pushed against two Redskins and reached the ball over the end zone line.
After forcing a punt, the D’backs came back as Bridge made a juggling catch and then caught a quick out, Sean picked up 15 on back-to-back carries, Cody ran for 3 and Sean took a screen for 8 before Bennett’s overthrow landed in Ussery’s arms for the first of his two picks.
Calaveras went up 7-6 on Wilson’s first touchdown but Union Mine answered as Bennett found Bridge in a seam for 18 and dropped off a short pass to Bridge for another 9. Eddy caught a 19-yard slant to the Redskin 15. Sean shot through the middle from there and cut around the left end to score from 15 yards out. Bennett’s pass to Kona Teixiera was good for two points and a 14-7 advantage.
After the D’back secondary was burned for a Bock-to-Seawell 68-yard connection to tie the score, Union Mine went back up with 55 seconds left. After Hernandez rumbled for 19 on a catch, Bennett went deep over the middle to Bridge in double coverage. The throw hit Bridge and launched over both defensive backs to Eddy. He grabbed it on the run at the 15 to complete the unusual 40-yard touchdown play.
“Beau made a hell of a play to pop it up and I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time,” Eddy said. “In the second half we came out and tried to do our thing but it wasn’t meant to be. It was an amazing season — great teammates, great coaches — a real dream season.”
Not to be deterred, Bock completed four straight passes, the last a 17-yarder to Seawell, to tie the game 10 seconds before halftime.
“We just didn’t play as well as we should have but hopefully the juniors can come back strong next year,” said Cody, who will take a brief time off before he joins the wrestling team. “Although it’s not how I wanted it to end it was a fun season, I had a great time and I’ll miss all the guys.”
Along with Eddy’s interception, the D’backs had another first half takeaway when Dustin Whittington helped force a fumble that Chris Vasquez recovered — but Donovan intercepted Bennett on the next play to negate the gain. Offensively, Bennett completed 16-of-26 passes for 219 yards while Sean, averaging 243 yards in two previous playoff outings, was held to 74 on 18 carries.
“It’s always tough when you lose the last one but it was a good season. I’m real proud of the guys — all season they battled — and while tonight we didn’t play our best, there were just four teams (left in the section) and to lose by just a touchdown makes you think you were a pretty good football team,” Johnson concluded.