DINUBA — Maybe, just maybe, they'll catch their collective breath if they meet again Dec. 6.
That would be for the Central Section Division III football championship, and there was nothing to suggest that won't happen after 10th-ranked Porterville outraced No. 9 Dinuba 66-52 in a nonleague classic played before 4,500 fans Friday night.
Isaiah Jones, one of the state's elite sophomore running backs, bolted for touchdowns of 35 and 62 yards in a span of 3 minutes and 26 seconds late in the fourth quarter to break a 45-45 tie in a showdown of the section's top-ranked D-III teams.
Dinuba (4-1) of the Central Sequoia League came in No. 1 in the division.
Porterville (5-0) of the East Yosemite League came in No. 2 — a second-chair position to the Emperors the Panthers had become accustomed to.
Four reasons: losses of 35-21, 45-35, 31-21 (for D-III title in 2009) and 34-27 in the past five years.
This week, however, Panthers coach Carl Scudder said, "I think we're going to get this one."
And it was only after Porterville's Austin Hefner sped 45 yards for a touchdown and a 66-52 lead with 44 seconds remaining that Panthers assistant Larry Duran howled, "Yeah, yeah, yeah," before marching out of the pressbox and trumpeting the bottom line: "We got a monkey off our back."
No help to Marcus McMaryion.
Dinuba's senior quarterback, who has pledged to Oregon State, completed 26 of 38 passes for 352 yards and seven touchdowns.
Porterville countered with senior Dennis Chester, who proved masterful again in operating a wing-T offense averaging 56.6 points.
He played his part in high school's answer to ping-pong football in northwest Tulare County, including a 36-yard TD pass to Lalo Nevarez and a 2-yard run in the third quarter.
But it would come down to the Panthers' veteran offensive line and Jones, who is right in the mix with the best at his position in the section's year of the running back.
Ten months after blistering Dinuba for 245 yards in a D-III semifinal loss, he carried 23 times for 197 yards and three scores.
Porterville's defense did play a role — seriously.
It was a Tyler Haugen interception that preceded Chester's TD pass to Nevarez. And it was an Eric Richardson theft — keeping his concentration during a double deflection — that set up Jones' 35-yard score for a 52-45 lead with 6:30 to go.
Then, Jones' 62-yard TD was offset by McMaryion's final scoring pass — a 15-yarder to Evan Herod — before Hefner scored the game's 16th and final TD.
Yes, 16, in a 48-minute game. And more than 1,000 total yards — 568 for Porterville.
Dinuba, down 21-10, turned it around with four big plays in the second quarter.
Play 1: A 67-yard touchdown pass from McMaryion to Mario Rodriguez, who caught the deep toss in stride down the left sideline. That cut the gap to 21-17.
Play 2: Rodriguez, playing cornerback on a third-and-4 play, leaped to intercept Chester in the end zone.
Play 3: McMaryion, in punt formation on a fourth-and-3, raced 20 yards down the right sideline.
Play 4: McMaryion, not missing open receivers, found Xavier Jones alone on the right side for a 29-yard touchdown and 24-21 lead with 2:47 left in the first half.
Porterville responded with a 17-yard completion from Chester to Kawi Mohsen on third-and-9, setting up Adrian Saurez's 20-yard field goal at the first-half gun for a 24-24 tie.
Dinuba suffered a major blow when Rodriguez, one of the team's most valuable players as a receiver/cornerback, hurt his left leg early in the third quarter and did not return.
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