The 2017 version of the Yosemite Badgers varsity football team (1-0) opened their season with a 25-0 road win shutout of the Le Grand Bulldogs (0-1) Aug. 25.
Last year the Badgers defeated Le Grand 35-0 at Badger Stadium, one of its five shutouts on the season (one short of the school record).
The defense was supposed to be the strength of the Badgers this season with eight returning starters. That was questioned at the Aug. 18 scrimmage against Firebaugh as the Eagles scored almost at will on big plays. After Firebaugh, the Yosemite coaching staff challenged the defense and they responded. Overall, the Badger defense forced five turnovers and limited the Bulldog offense to two first downs with negative total yards on offense.
“Our defense was really physical and relentless,” said Badger head coach JD Burnett. “We were hitting with intensity. After Firebaugh our staff pushed them to step up. We made adjustments and it really came together at Le Grand.”
The Badgers played their season opener in front of a Le Grand fan base that celebrated a new stadium and football complex. The festive mood was quieted as six Bulldog players suffered injuries. Le Grand started the game with 16 players. At the beginning of the fourth quarter they were down to 10 players on the field, but never quit. The Badgers only had a 12-0 lead midway through the third quarter.
“The Le Grand team that started the game was really good,” Burnett said. “We thought they were better than last year. We beat a good team that played hard the whole game. The injuries were really unfortunate.”
The Badgers scored first on a six play, 58-yard drive in the first quarter. Badger quarterback Tyson Mansfield, a junior, connected with wide out Cannon Eames on a 40-yard pass. Mansfield took it in from the one yard line. The point after failed.
Badger defense relentless
The Badger defense made its presence known early, harassing Bulldog quarterback Alberto Marquez relentlessly. On the Bulldogs’ second possession Yosemite linebacker Ty Peterson recovered a fumble by Marquez at the Bulldog 15, however Mansfield threw a pick in the end zone on the next play.
The Badger D was physical from the start and would bring pressure the entire game. Later in the quarter Marquez left the game with a shoulder injury and the Bulldog offense was never in synch the rest of the game.
YHS scored just before halftime. After starting at the Le Grand 38, Mansfield hit Eames on pass plays of 14 and 20 yards. On fourth and goal Mansfield rolled right and hit tight end Peter Martinez in the corner of the end zone in traffic.
“That was a nice play by Tyson,” Burnett said. “Tyson is improving every week and had a solid game in his first varsity start. Tyson is a leader and I am very proud of him and his performance.”
The 2-point conversion failed and YHS went into halftime with a 12-0 lead.
An Ernie Jimenez interception put YHS at the Bulldog 48 early in the third. YHS drove to the 9 on passes to Eames and Martinez. Despite being shorthanded, the Le Grand defense held. The never quit attitude of the Bulldogs came from pride of a storied program.
After the Badger defense forced a three and out, the YHS offense put the game away. Starting from a short field, running back Nic Harper scored on a 5-yard run. Ben Negley booted the extra point and YHS was up 19-0. After a running clock was mercifully started the Badgers finished the scoring with running back Burgeno catching a 5-yard TD pass. By then the Bulldogs were playing with just 10 players.
Passing: Mansfield-14/23, 164 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception.
Receiving: Eames 5-95; Negley 3-29; Burgeno 2-19, 1 TD; Martinez 2-12, 1TD; Paul Antonis 2-9.
Rushing: Burgeno 14-59; Harper 10-38; John Alsup 2-11; Jimenez 2-7; Mansfield 6-4.
Defensively Clayton Burke had a big game, leading YHS with 11 tackles, three for loss. Burke was moved to outside linebacker after Firebaugh and had only a few days to learn his new position.
Peterson had six tackles, a fumble recovery, and forced two fumbles. He was part of a linebacking corps that was in on every play. Jimenez had three tackles and an interception.
Burnett singled out linebacker Diego Combs who had three tackles. “Diego had a phenomenal first varsity game,” Burnett said. “We really challenged him after Firebaugh and he responded with a great game.”
Badger JV lose close one
The YHS JV team is made up of 35 players - seven sophomores and 28 freshmen. The lack of experience showed against the Bulldogs, who defeated the Badgers 12-7. Despite a slow start and lots of miscues the Badgers were in a position to pull off the win at the end.
“We have a lot of great athletes on this team but for most of the players this was their first high school game,” Burnett said. “The inexperience showed. The team made a lot of mental mistakes and will have to improve on fundamentals. They played hard and they will get better.”
The players and fans had to deal with 100-plus degree heat at the 5 p.m. start. Le Grand scored on their first possession. After a short YHS punt, the Bulldog offense started at the YHS 33 and would score six plays later. The PAT failed and the Bulldogs would go into halftime up 6-0.
Le Grand scored on their first possession after halftime. A 45-yard kickoff return and a YHS roughing penalty gave the Bulldogs possession at the YHS six yard line. Running back Juan Hernandez scored on the next play. It was now 12-0 just 20 seconds into the half.
YHS would answer with their only touchdown of the game, as QB Jadyn Carter hit Holden Eames on a 65-yard TD pass. Eames came back to catch a wobbly pass and outraced the Bulldog defenders for the first Badger TD of the season. Matt Dugovic booted the extra point and YHS was back in it, down 12-7.
YHS had a chance to win in the fourth when Badger running back Justin Micallef had a 30-yard run and the Badgers moved the ball to the Bulldog nine. The Badger offense couldn’t punch it in and the Bulldogs held on to a 12-7 win.
Caruthers will give Yosemite a real challenge
The Badgers will host another storied Valley football program and one of the toughest teams on its 2017 schedule Friday night - the Caruthers Blue Raiders, with the JV kickoff at 5 p.m. and varsity at 7.
The Blue Raiders defeated YHS 36-14 last year in 2016 at Badger Stadium. Caruthers is coming off a 7-4 season last year that included a 49-16 loss to Bishop in the Central Section D-V playoffs. Caruthers plays in the West Sequoia League.
Caruthers is led by third year head coach Bandon Ward, who took over for Valley Hall of Fame coach Tom Casanova. The Blue Raiders opened the 2017 campaign by crushing Tranquility 49-18.
“Caruthers is a big, strong, physical team,” Burnett said. “They run the ball well and play real smash-mouthed football. They run out of the ‘I formation’ which will certainly test our defense.”
Last year the Blue Raiders rushed for 3,646 yards, an average of 317 yards per game, while throwing for only 70 yards per game. It was one of the top rushing attacks in the Central Section.
Caruthers lost one of the great backs in section history to graduation - Alex Puga rushed for 2,007 yards and 18 TDs last season. Senior Imanol Arredondo returns from a junior season where he rushed for 1,142 yards and scored 14 TDs. Puga’s brother Chris will also be in the rushing mix.
Quarterback Jared Gilmore threw for 699 yards with seven touchdowns and five picks in 2016. Arredondo is the leading returning pass catcher with 12 catches for 175 yards and 2 TDs in 2016.