The Yosemite High School Badgers (3-1) made the short trip to the Mariposa County Fairgrounds last Friday to play the Mariposa Grizzlies (1-2). In an offensive slugfest, the Badgers beat the Grizzlies 51-38, aided by 332 rushing yards and four touchdowns by Johnny Varian on a mere 23 carries.
The Badger ground attack totaled 506 yards on the night, with another 100-plus yards through the air from quarterback Tristan Eames.
“The Gold Nugget Bowl lived up to the expectations ... the atmosphere at the fairgrounds was a perfect setting that is steeped in tradition,” Badger Coach JD Burnett said. “It was one of the top five games I have ever been involved with as a high school football coach.”
The long-anticipated game was the renewal of a 40-year rivalry and the rebirth of the Gold Nugget Bowl, first sponsored by the Sierra Star.
The rivalry started on Sept. 18, 1977, with Mariposa visiting Yosemite and winning 26-0.
Not counting the 14-14 tie played in 1979, Mariposa won the first four Gold Nugget Bowls, but the streak ended there as Yosemite has now won the last nine. The game was not held in 1982, 83 and 88.
Mariposa and Yosemite competed until 1992 when Yosemite’s enrollment increased dramatically. With the building of Minarets High and a declining Mountain Area population, enrollments Yosemite and Mariposa are now similar. Fans on both sides of the mountains clamored for this game which proved to be a memorable reunion night for the Badgers.
Yosemite struck first with the elusive Varian darting up the middle for a 53-yard touchdown. A Joe Campbell point after gave YHS a quick 7-0 lead with 10:36 left in the first quarter.
Mariposa came back on a 66-yard touchdown drive led by sophomore quarterback Colton Weidner, with the QB scoring on a two-yard run.
The Grizzlies ran a no-huddle offense and went to the air often. Weidner, in his first year as a varsity starter, was also a dangerous runner.
Badger wide receiver Austen Burgeno took a sweep left and bolted 50 yards. Running back Luke Howell got 19 yards to set up a touchdown on a two-yard sneak by quarterback Tristan Eames. giving YHS a 14-7 lead.
The next Mariposa drive stalled at their 38-yard line. Surprisingly Mariposa Coach Ryan Oliphant went for it on fourth down, but Weidner overthrew his intended receiver giving YHS excellent field position. On fourth down Badger QB Eames hit brother Cannon on a fade route in the left corner of the end zone, giving the Badgers a 21-7 lead.
The Grizzlies came clawing back. After forcing a punt, the Badgers were called for roughing the punter, a play that seemed to breathe new life into the Mariposa offense.
Widener then engineered three TD drives in the second quarter. The last came on a touchdown with no time remaining when Widener hit Casey Miller in the right corner of the end zone and Mariposa went into halftime with a 26-21 lead behind a loud and confident home crowd.
Despite that, the second half belonged to the Badgers. Burnett, who calls plays on both offense and defense, went to the ground game. Varian, who had 98 yards in the first half, exploded in the second half. On the Badgers first possession, with its back to the wall on their own four-yard line, Varian outran the Grizzly defense for a 96-yard TD, one of the longest scoring runs in YHS history.
Campbell missed his first point after of the season after hitting 19 in a row, but Yosemite was back in front 27-26.
On the next Badger possession Tristan Eames rolled out and threw an off-balance strike to wide-open receiver Cass Moreno, good for a 41-yard TD.
On Mariposa’s next possession, Badger defensive pressure forced Weidner to throw too early, and he was picked off by Badger sophomore linebacker Tyler Matyshock at the Grizzly 33-yard line. Two plays later, Varian darted through the line for a 34-yard TD, putting the Badgers up 41-26 after scoring 20 unanswered points.
Varian added another touchdown on a 52-yard run. Campbell showed his leg strength by booting a 34-yard field goal with plenty of room to spare to put YHS up 51-26.
The Grizzlies added two TDs to close out the game - one by Josh Land on a 60-yard run. Land, Mariposa’s leading rusher, was held in check most of the night.
The key to the Badger’s second half success was a defensive adjustment by Burnett that had Badgers blitzing in bunches to the Grizzly line, leaving Weidner with little time to throw.
“In the first half we gave them too many chances,” Burnett said. “The two roughing penalties and other mental mistakes gave them opportunities to make plays. We needed to play in a game like this and prove we can come back from a halftime deficit. Our offensive line dominated the game. They are a great group of dedicated players who have committed to training their bodies and mastering their positions.”
YHS JV loses 14-6
The YHS JV team spotted Mariposa a 14-0 halftime lead, dominated the second half, but came up short losing 14-6 to the Grizzlies. YHS Coach Matt Pressley was disappointed in the loss but pleased with the Badger effort. The loss moves the JV team to 1-3 for the season.
Late in the third period, the Badger defense forced a Mariposa fumble. It was recovered by Nick Harper. From there, quarterback Tyler Mansfield directed the lone Badger scoring drive keyed by runs by Harper, Ernie Jimenez, and Diego Combs. A few seconds into the fourth quarter, Mansfield took it in from the one.
After a fumble recovery by defensive back Paul Antonis, the Badgers were set up for a drive to tie it up late in the fourth quarter. After huge gains by Harper and the offense in sync, Harper went down with a leg injury on the Mariposa 38. The loss of the Badger workhorse took the steam out of the offense and the Badgers, who held the Grizzlies scoreless in the second half, could not score again as time ran out.
Mustangs host Badgers Friday
The Badgers travel down Highway 41 Friday for the first-ever football match-up between Yosemite and the Minarets Mustangs.
The timing of the game seems to favor the Badgers, who after the previous four years had a 1-38 record have turned things around, scoring 150 points in four games this season while the Mustangs, having lost nine seniors to graduation, are 0-3 (61 points scored) this season after going 4-5 last year.
Last week against Tranquillity, Minarets had 218 yards of offense (296 all purpose yards) on the game, the team’s lowest total yards output of the season.
In comparison the Badgers had its largest single game production of the season with 506 yards, 332 from running back Johnny Varian against Mariposa.
The JV game begins at 5 p.m., with the varsity kicking off at 7.