Late touchdown lifts Strathmore over Woodlake
The Spartans scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to beat the Tigers 26-22
By Jermaine Johnson II @Jerm_10
WOODLAKE – A year ago, Woodlake snapped Strathmore’s 21 game winning streak after defeating them in week six of the regular season. History almost repeated itself last Friday, as the Spartans’ undefeated season was nearly taken away from them by the Tigers, but a late touchdown propelled them to a 6-0 record.
Heading into the halftime break, Woodlake was up 8-0 as neither offense could get anything going against the opposing defense. The Tigers moved the ball into the red zone on their first possession, but couldn’t get it into the end zone. A few possessions later, they were in the red zone again and had the ball on fourth down with a yard to go. The Spartans jumped offsides, giving the Tigers a fresh set of downs. The drive ended with the only touchdown of the first half on an 8-yard pass to junior Luis Lopez. He ended with five catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns.
The Spartans had prime opportunities to respond on the next drive, but they dropped two potential touchdown passes. A few possessions later, senior safety Christian Onsurez got an interception to give his offense the ball back. They got into the red zone and senior Andre Bravo made a great catch in the end zone, but was called out of bounds. Once again, they failed to put points on the board and gave Woodlake the ball back.
“When it came time to make plays, we stunk up the field in the first half. Our quarterback was doing a good job putting up good balls but we were dropping them,” Strathmore head coach Jeromy Blackwell said. “[In the running game] we weren’t doing a good job of filling gaps or getting to the second level, and Woodlake was playing really tough defense.”
“Defensively we rallied to the ball and were super aggressive,” Woodlake head coach Jeff Johnson said echoing Blackewell’s latter point.
To add to the team’s first half struggles, Strathmore senior Marcus Aparicio suffered a nasty injury that appeared to be a broken wrist. Coach Blackwell was proud of how his team responded during the adversity.
“Some teams would be deflated after being down, but our team was celebrating. They were telling me that this game is far from over,” Blackwell said. After Aparicio’s injury, senior Christian Rodriguez corralled his teammates in an effort to rally for their fallen teammate.
The second half was filled with more action to make up for the slow first half for both teams. The Spartans took advantage of several Woodlake miscues to get their first points of the game. The Tigers got the ball on the first possession, but Bravo came up with a big interception for his team. The Spartan offense couldn’t make the Tigers pay for that mistake, but they would have other opportunities to do so. On Woodlake’s next possession, they had the ball on third and long and dropped a catch that would have given them the first down. They tried to punt on fourth down but a bad snap gave Strathmore the ball at Woodlake’s 22-yard line. This time, the Spartans made it into the end zone. On the first play, senior quarterback Trace Pugh threw it up to Bravo who made a great contested catch over the defensive back. They couldn’t convert on the ensuing conversion so the Tigers still led 8-6 with about seven minutes remaining in the third quarter.
After that, the scoring came in bunches for both teams. Woodlake converted a critical fourth down, which led to another touchdown pass to Lopez. They now led 14-6. The Spartans run defense stifled the Tigers all game, forcing them to air it out. As a result, senior quarterback Damian Hernandez threw 41 passes, completing 28 of them for 275 yards, with a pair of touchdowns and interceptions.
The Spartans responded immediately. Sophomore Carlos Moreno received the ensuing kickoff and ran it back nearly 80 yards for a touchdown. They cut the lead down again as they only trailed 14-12 with four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
According to Blackwell, that kick return score is what sparked his team’s comeback. “Execution fuels emotion. After that kick return, suddenly our sideline was up,” he said.
Woodlake went three and out on their next possession and the momentum continued growing in Strathmore’s favor. They opened the fourth quarter with the ball. There were three touchdowns to go along with three lead changes in the final period. A bad punt gave the Spartans the ball just shy of midfield and they marched right down the field. Moreno capped off the drive with a ten-yard touchdown run. They were finally successful on a two-point conversion, and the Spartans had their first lead of the game. The score was 20-14 with less than eight minutes remaining.
Woodlake’s passing game is what kept them in the game. Specifically, it was junior receiver Hector Magana who was nearly unguardable. He made consecutive big plays that got his team down the field. He ended the night with 13 catches for 113 yards. Big passes got them there and Saul Palomo ran in the touchdown to regain the lead for his team. They added two more points and were up 22-20.
The game was far from over. Strathmore’s passing game led them right down the field as well. The highlight of the drive was a deep connection between Pugh and senior Lee Navarro with 1:10 remaining. The receiver ended with five receptions for 100 yards. Moreno then gave his team the lead again with his third score of the game. He ended with 95 yards. They didn’t get the two-point conversion so they were only ahead by four points. Woodlake’s passing game got them near the red zone, but they ran out of time.
Despite coming up short, Coach Johnson knows that his team will bounce back from this loss. “[Their resilience] is going to pay off in the playoffs,” he said. “We’re going to turn a negative into a positive and get better from it,” Johnson said.
The Tigers are 5-2 and will travel to Corcoran on Friday. The Spartans will continue their three-game road trip as they travel to Sierra Pacific.