Despite young team, injuries, Badgers compete

The Golden Bears of Sierra Pacific High (4-1) scored 21 points in the second quarter and held off the Yosemite Badgers (0-4) the rest of the way to post a 28-12 victory last Friday at the Neighbor Bowl in Hanford.

The D-VI Bears were led by running back Deareon Willis who scored two rushing touchdowns. Miguel Wharton rushed for 110 yards and scored on a 38-yard touchdown run.

The Badgers, with 16 players, did a lot with less versus the experienced 40-man roster of the Golden Bears.

Sophomore running back Jesse De La Cruz rushed for 130 yards for Yosemite, his highest output of the season.

“We had to pull up another sophomore (Caleb Bachelor) our ninth overall, to field 16 players,” Badger Coach JD Burnett said. “We have three injured players and one out due to bad choices. After we lost the players due to injury and suspension, I told the team that this won’t be the last time in your life that your back is against the wall. When you are in this position you have two choices: lie down or fight. Our team is not laying down for anyone.”

After a scoreless first quarter, the Sierra Pacific offense got into gear early in the second quarter. They would score on a 10-play, 65-yard drive with quarterback Hayden Costa scrambling 19 yards for the touchdown. The point after was good and the Bears were up 7-0.

On its next possession, the Bears would strike quickly, with Costa throwing a fade to the right to receiver Skylor Horn over the outstretched arms of Yosemite defensive back Tristan Eames for an 80-yard TD. Badger defender Dylan Rounsivill blocked the point after, but Sierra Pacific had a 13-0 lead.

On the next Badger possession junior running back Johnny Barian, with his first touch of the football this season, burst through the middle and sprinted 55 yards to the Bear five-yard line. Barian adds a speed dimension to the Badger running attack, but the long gain was for naught, when on the next play, quarterback Tristan Eames was intercepted in the end zone, ending the Badger threat.

On the next Bear possession a 70-yard Willis touchdown was called back, but Sierra Pacific would score again with just under a minute before the half. Putting together an eight-play, 70-yard drive, Willis would score from five yards out. The Bears completed a two-point conversion to end the first half with a comfortable 21-0 lead.

In the third quarter, the Bears would add to their lead due to a Badger miscue. A YHS fumble on the opening kickoff was recovered by Sierra Pacific at the Badger 20. The Bears were held off by the Badger defense.

On the next Yosemite possession De La Cruz was stripped of the ball at the 50-yard line. The Bears would take advantage of another Badger turnover. The Badger defense forced a third and long. Costa hit Willis in the flat and cut across the field, rambling 28 yards to the YHS 25. Willis would score his second rushing touchdown on an eight-yard run.

Down 28-0, the Badgers responded on the back of De La Cruz, who rambled for a 20-yard run, and five more carries that moved the ball to the Bears 35. Badger QB Eames then went to the air and hit brother Cannon for a 35-yard touchdown in the right corner of the end zone. The point after failed.

After the Badgers missed a 38-yard field goal, the Bears got the ball back and drove deep into Badger territory on their next possession. Again, the Badger defense rose to the occasion. From the Badger 12, Willis took the ball and was hit hard by Badger linebacker Hunter Fisk, jarring the ball loose - to be scooped up by Badger defensive back Cass Moreno who returned it to the 35.

Eames again went to the air and hit brother Cannon on a 25-yard fade to the Bear 40. De La Cruz then powered to the 15, and on the next play Eames threw a fade into the left corner of the end zone, connecting with Moreno for the TD. The two-point conversion failed, with the game ending at 28-12.

There were positive results even in a loss. Tristan Eames threw two touchdown passes. Barian showed he can be a threat with great speed, and the offensive line played well enough to let De La Cruz rush for a season high 130 yards. Despite three turnovers, the 16-player squad (including nine sophomores) was in the game to the end. The Badger defense made key stops in the fourth quarter showing outstanding conditioning.

Coach Burnett was full of praise for the Badger effort.

“It is difficult to express the satisfaction I have with this team ... We are not winning games, but we are performing at a very high level,” Burnett said. “It is a privilege to lead these young men. This team leaves everything on the field. As a coach your goal is to get everything out of your players and we are getting pretty close to doing just that.”

League opener Friday at Liberty

The Badgers begin North Sequoia League play Friday at Liberty-Madera Ranchos (4-1). It is the third of a tough four-game road trip for Yosemite, and will be a huge test for the Badgers. Liberty was defeated last week 41-21 by Madera South, snapping a state-leading 22-game winning streak.

The Hawks were the top ranked team in D-IV by the Fresno Bee. The Hawks are 41-3 in the last four seasons and have won the CIF Central Section D-IV championship the past three years (twice in D-V, and last season in D-IV).

Last year the Hawks inflicted the worst loss in YHS history, defeating the Badgers 83-7.

“Liberty are the big boys of the NSL,” Burnett said. “Liberty will be hungry after getting their winning streak snapped. Still we are going to make them earn what they get.”

Game times: JV 5 p.m., Varsity 7 p.m.