The No. 10 seed Yosemite Badger football team (9-3) upset No. 2 Dos Palos (7-5) 29-14 last Friday to advance to the 7 p.m. Central Section D-V semifinals game at No. 3 Firebaugh (10-2) Friday.
It was a big win for the Badgers against the Broncos, a program with a deep history in the Central Section with 14 Valley Championships to their credit.
Starting from their own 5-yard line to open the game, Yosemite drove 95 yards in 17 plays, eating up nine minutes on the clock culminating in a Tristan Eames 11-yard touchdown pass to brother Cannon. The Joe Campbell point after gave YHS an early 7-0 lead and the Badgers went on to dominate time of possession the entire first half.
Badger Head Coach JD Burnett was impressed with the overall performance of his team.
“We came out and set the tone on our first drive,” Burnett said. “As an underdog in a playoff game you want to control the clock. We did that. We executed when we needed to. It was a great performance for our team.”
Another long Badger drive midway through the second quarter produced no points, but a Tristan Eames punt would pin the Broncos on their 9-yard line.
The Broncos marched down the field on the ground with big gains by 235-pound running back Tre Walker. Walker would score from 33 yards out with less than a second in the half to tie the game at 7-7.
Dos Palos came out of halftime with the running game in gear. Bronco running back Hunter Hogue scored from 14 yards out, capping a 66-yard drive, all on the ground. Dos Palos was up 14-7. From there the momentum would shift to the Badgers. It was the YHS special teams and defense that turned it around.
Momentum changing kickoff return and fumble recovery
On the ensuing kickoff, Cannon Eames answered with a momentum changing 95-yard kickoff return. The Campbell PAT tied things up at 14-14. The return is the third best in school history behind a 99-yard return by Shawn Hackworth in 2007 and 96 by Chris Warder in 2004.
The Broncos drove to the Badger 5 on their next possession. A chop block penalty moved the Broncos back. Walker then fumbled and Badger linebacker Tyler Matyshock recovered to end the scoring threat.
Tristan Eames then connected with Cannon on a 35-yard pass, followed by key runs from Luke Howell to move YHS to the Bronco 1. From there Tristan plunged over the right side for the TD. YHS tried a 2-point conversion that failed, but Yosemite had a 20-14 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Big kickoff fumble recovery
On the kickoff, Campbell booted a short bouncer that was bobbled by the Broncos. Badger Austen Burgeno made a game-changing fumble recovery on the Bronco 37.
Tristan Eames directed another Badger scoring drive both on the ground and through the air. He finished with a 14-yard run to the end zone to put YHS up 26-14.
The Bronco crowd was stunned. With almost 10 minutes left in the game Dos Palos needed two touchdowns, and having no success in the passing game it was up to their ground attack. The YHS defense was up for the challenge, however, and held them off. A 31-yard field goal by Campbell would seal the upset win. It was the second straight long distance field goal for Campbell in the playoffs.
Tristan Eames had another stellar performance, directing the offense with accurate passing and key runs to keep drives alive. He finished the night accounting for 237 yards of offense - 10-18 for 153 yards passing and 84 yards on 12 carries.
“Tristan simply out-willed Dos Palos,” Burnett said. “He was not going to let this team lose. He has put this team on his back all season and has really elevated his play in the playoffs.”
In addition to his third quarter kickoff return, Cannon Eames had 6 receptions for 88 yards. This was Eames’ 13th TD reception of the season and is now second all-time in YHS history behind Bradly Wilkinson’s 17 in 2006. Receiver Cass Moreno had four catches for 65 yards.
The 5-foot-5, 160 pound Howell, a junior, finished the night with 94 yards on 27 carries. Howell’s runs kept the clock running as YHS controlled the pace. Howell continues to be huge for the Badger running game. Despite the pounding, Howell doesn’t fumble, hits the hole hard, and always keeps his legs churning, Burnett said.
“Luke has really played great down the stretch,” Burnett said. “He made some tough runs tonight and moved the chains.”
Credit again should go to the Badger offensive line which gave Howell the holes to run through and allowed no sacks behind the starting five of Ty Peterson, Dylan De La Cruz, Klay Kleist, Peter Martinez, and Kevin Bulawsky. Peterson left with an injury midway through the game and Clayton Burke, a starter for most of the year, filled in admirably.
The Badgers move on to the semifinal round this Friday at No. 3 seed Firebaugh (10-2), a team the Broncos beat 24-0 on Oct. 21. Coached by Dejon Kelly, Firebaugh beat Bishop 39-28 Friday to advance in the playoffs. Yosemite beat Bishop in overtime, 28-21 on Sept. 29.
“Firebaugh has had an outstanding year,” Burnett said. “They are a well-coached and hard-nosed football team. They are also explosive.”
The Eagles had impressive wins against playoff teams including Liberty (28-26), Fowler (41-35), Riverdale (30-6), Caruthers (34-7) and Parlier (70-6).
The Eagles average 40 points per game and give up 23. The Eagles run a balanced offense that averages 236 yards rushing and 183 yards receiving per game.
The Eagle offense is led by junior quarterback Noey Garcia. Garcia has completed 105 passes on 205 attempts for 2,136 yards for 17 touchdowns with 9 interceptions. Garcia is a threat to run and has rushed for 8 touchdowns. When he throws he looks to junior Tylor Palmer. Palmer has accumulated 1,005 yards receiving on 40 catches and has scored 10 touchdowns.
The ground attack is the heart of the Eagle offense. Senior AJ Molina leads Firebaugh with 1,192 yards rushing averaging 7.2 yards per carry and has scored 9 touchdowns. Senior Jasper Levya-Medina has rushed for 337 yards and scored 7 touchdowns.
Championship game Dec. 2
Also playing Nov. 25 for a spot in the D-V championship game will be No. 1 seed and perennial powerhouse Mendota (11-0), which will take on Sierra (7-5), the No. 4 seed.
Mendota beat No. 9 seed Desert (Edwards Air Force Base) 44-12 last Friday. The Aztecs accumulated 471 yards of offense behind 12 running backs, gaining 319 yards on the ground and an additional 152 yards through the air.
Sierra defeated No. 12 seed Woodlake 42-27 with 279 yards rushing (196 from Shane Maldonado) and 58 yards passing. Sierra beat Yosemite 41-14 Nov. 4.
The D-V championship game will be played Dec. 2.