It was a historic night Oct. 26 in O’Neals. The Minarets Mustangs needed a win. Playoff hopes were on the line. It was also the final game of the regular season and Senior Night.
The Mustangs overcame a slow start that included three first-quarter turnovers and put together a solid second-half performance to defeat the Cowboys 53-23. The victory earned Minarets its first-ever playoff berth. Riverdale (4-6, 1-5) didn’t advance.
Minarets (4-6, 2-4) was seeded No. 7 in the Central Section Division VI playoffs and will travel to play West Sequoia League rival and No. seed Orange Cove on Friday, Nov. 2.
“For us it was really exciting playing in a playoff-type atmosphere,” Minarets coach Becher Marr said of the Riverdale game. “Our seniors and the rest of the team responded to the pressure. We started the year with lots of mistakes that cost us games. But the way we have been playing lately gives us a lot of confidence in our first playoff experience. I am really proud of this team.”
Tyson Ellis had another huge performance in an already record-setting season. Ellis ran for a school-record 357 yards on 20 carries and scored four touchdowns. It was the second straight 300-yard performance by Ellis. His 2018 total of 1,707 yards (and counting) is a school season record and he’s the Minarets career leader, too.
It was close early with Minarets leading 20-15 after the first quarter. The Mustangs committed three first-quarter turnovers that kept the Cowboys close. The defenses stiffened in the second quarter and Minarets went into halftime up 26-15. In the second half, it was all Minarets.
The Mustangs amassed 619 total yards. Minarets controlled the game running for 355 yards on 24 carries averaging 15 yards per carry.
The Mustangs honored their 16 senior players: Bobby Barr, Demetri Belo, Preston Conti, Clayton Davis, Dylan De La Cruz, Zack Deboer, Aiden Eby, Tyson Ellis, Ashton Freeland, Chris Hittle, Caleb Lynch, Zack Redman, Alex Sexton, Nick Taylor, Christian Varner and Tyler Zea.
Quarterback Marty Urroz had another efficient start: 11 for 16 for 251 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. Urroz has thrown for 12 touchdowns and only three interceptions in his last three contests.
Redman caught five passes for 102 yards. Conti had four for 107. Each had two touchdown catches. TJ Garner (1-15), Jordan Rodkey (1-14), and Ellis (1-13) all contributed to Minarets’ domination in the air.
Ellis led Minarets with nine tackles and had a sack. Nick Taylor had eight tackles and Joseph Gonzales had seven. Conti, Garner and Redman each had an interception.
The Minarets JV (1-9) lost 33-12 to Riverdale.
Minarets will travel to Orange Cove on Friday, Nov. 2 in the eight-team D-VI bracket. Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m. Orange Cove (9-1, 5-1) lost 35-0 to undefeated Caruthers, which took the WSL title. Orange Cove defeated Minarets 48-35 in O’Neals on Sept. 21.
Minarets could easily be 6-4 this season and garnered a much higher seed. The Mustangs lost their first game to Mariposa 15-13 and 39-36 to Orosi where they held the lead for virtually the entire game. The Mustangs have played well in their last three games.
“This will be a tough matchup,” Marr said. “We played Orange Cove close at home. I like how our team has been playing lately. We will be up for the challenge but know we have to limit mistakes to win.”
Strathmore (9-1) earned the No. 1 seed in D-VI. Orosi, another WSL team, is the No. 3 seed and will play No. 6 Sierra Pacific of Hanford. If the Mustangs get by the Titans they would play the winner of Orosi-Sierra Pacific.