It was a historic season opener at Badger Stadium Aug. 26 as Yosemite High School played its first football game of the 2016 season as an ‘independent’ team after withdrawing from the North Sequoia League.
There was a lot of pre-game energy from the players and coaches, and a spirited student body section in the stands that felt like this could be the night to break the Badger’s 27-game losing streak dating back to 2013. Those feelings held true as the Badgers did it in a big way with a 35-0 victory over the Le Grand Bulldogs, a small school Sac-Joaquin Section power with a winning tradition.
YHS came out of the huge inflated Badger helmet ‘tunnel’ and onto Raupp Field in new uniforms and a lot of emotion and energy before a home-town crowd of more than 700.
YHS won with dominant physical play, highlighted by nine quarterback sacks, one of the top single game sack totals in YHS history (YHS record is 12 in a game), as the team recorded its first shutout since 2008.
The nine sacks added up to a negative 114 yards for Le Grand, and after adding their rushing and passing yards, the Bulldogs finished the game with a total of minus 17 yards.
The Badger running game produced 310 yards with running backs Luke Howell (14 carries, 145 yards, 1 TD) and Johnny Varian (7 carries, 81 yards, 2 TD).
Quarterback Tristan Eames had more time in the pocket as the offensive line did not allow a sack. Eames was 2 for 13 passing for 49 yards with one TD and one interception. The TD pass was for 30 yards to his brother Cannon. Tristan also rushed for 62 yards on 12 carries and had a 1-yard TD run. The Badgers offense had no turnovers.
“The hard work and dedication to our strength and conditioning program was evident tonight, as we dominated at the line of scrimmage,” said second year Coach JD Burnett.
On Le Grand’s first series the Badger defense set the tone for the evening. Burnett felt Bulldog QB Jonathan Marquez was solid at his position (6 for 14, 82 yards passing) and their biggest threat, but Burnett’s defense didn’t give Marquez time to throw all night.
The first series ended when Badger defensive linemen Kevin Bulawsky, Peter Martinez, and Dylan De La Cruz sacked Marquez. The Badgers blitzed Marquez all night from different defensive looks. Playing from behind, Marquez was forced to throw, and the Badger ‘Bear’ defense did the rest.
“Our defense was suffocating tonight,” Burnett said. “Our players believed in our defensive game plan, and executed it with aggression.”
The Badgers scored on their first drive, and 5-foot-5, 160-pound junior running back Howell made his presence known early. On his first carry Howell bursts 14 yards to the 35. On fourth and two at the Le Grand 44, Howell burst up the middle before being caught at the Bulldog six-yard-line. Eames went in from the one. A Joe Campbell PAT made it 7-0.
The Badgers started their next possession at the 34, and now it was Varian’s turn, as the 5-foot-6, 145-pound back bolted up the middle, added a nice cutback and scored on a 62-yard run, giving YHS a 14-0 lead with 10:10 before the half.
Howell and Varian are small backs, deceptively strong, with quick bursts and cutbacks.
After Le Grand received the kickoff, the Badgers got two more sacks by Martinez and Ty Peterson.
On the final Badger drive of the first half, not one, but two YHS scores were taken away by penalties. A long pass from Eames to Eames was called back for an ineligible man down field, and a 48-yard scramble by Tristan was called back for an illegal block.
Nine first half Badger penalties killed two promising drives and took away two Badger touchdowns.
After YHS took the second half kickoff a long pass by Tristan to Cannon was picked off by Le Grand. The Bulldogs took over at the YHS 48. Again the Badger defense ended the threat. First there was a 14-yard sack by Badger LB Jacob Werber. DL Rocky Latham and Ty Peterson responded with another sack.
A shanked punt by Marquez gave YHS great starting position at the Bulldog 38. After an incompletion, Tristan came back with the same play - a deep fade to the left end zone where Cannon made a spectacular catch. With the Campbell PAT, Yosemite had a dominating 21-0 lead with 5:50 left in the third quarter.
The YHS defense wasn’t finished. Werber recovered a botched snap at the Le Grand 15. Howell took it from there bursting up the middle for his first touchdown of game. A Campbell PAT put YHS up 28-0.
Varian took a Marquez punt and ran 52 yards to the Bulldog eight, and Varian took it in from four yards out to give the Badgers a 35-0 lead.
YHS was on the drive again, this time it was soccer star Dalin Haas carrying the load. Haas, in his first football game, carried six times for 22 yards in a time-consuming drive culminating in a red zone scoring opportunity. In a classy move, the Badgers went into victory formation with Eames taking a knee to end the game.
It was the first win for third-year starting quarterback Tristan Eames.
“It was a long time coming,” Tristan said with a smile. “We didn’t have any turnovers and played smart. It feels great.”
“Offensively, penalties put us in bad situations most of the night,” Burnett said. “We are going to have to play smarter if we are going to achieve our goals.”
Burnett added huge praise for the Badger faithful.
“The atmosphere in the stadium was electric,” he said. “Our team fed off the crowd’s energy. It was so loud in there that all of Oakhurst could hear the excitement. Our ‘twelfth man’ definitely played a huge role. Mountain ball is back.”
Yosemite hosts Laton Friday
The Laton Mustangs, who lost their season opener 28-0 to Riverdale, will visit Badger Stadium this Friday - JV game 5:30 p.m. - Varsity 7 p.m.. Laton, who plays in the East Sierra League, was 0-8 in 2015, and is currently on a 20-game losing streak.
The 2015 Mustangs scored 54 points (6.7 per game) and allowed 330 points (41 per game).
Yosemite High School Cheerleader Coach Jennifer Lincoln is seeking former YHS cheerleaders (2001 to present) to come dance to the Badger fight song just before halftime of the school’s homecoming game on Friday, Sept. 30 at Badger Stadium.
“We already have about a dozen of the girls who will be participating but we would like to get up to at least 20,” Lincoln said.
Lincoln has been coaching the team for 15 years, and said it is going to be “super cool” to have many return for the homecoming game.
“I started coaching in 2002, and I love each and every girl that has gone through the program,” Lincoln said. “The fact that almost all of them to this day still call me ‘coachy,’ gives me a happy heart.”
Details: Jennifer Lincoln, (559) 760-3766.