Lemoore High’s run to the Central Section Division II championship game was powered by its defense.
Heading into the final against defending champ and top-seeded Ridgeview, the No. 2 Tigers had allowed an average of just 6.3 points per game during their nine-game winning streak.
But things fell apart Friday. With coach Shannon Pulliam suspended earlier in the day for allegedly promoting an altercation between players, Lemoore allowed 24 first-half points and not even the Tigers’ vaunted defense could keep them in it as Ridgeview won 45-19 for its third section title in four years.
Ridgeview (13-0) will advance to the CIF playoffs. The announcement of who the Wolf Pack will play and where for next weekend’s regional game will be decided Sunday.
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The Wolf Pack forced four Lemoore (10-3) turnovers. First, Malik Cry recovered a fumble on a kickoff return and Lawrence White scored on an 18-yard run on the ensuing play.
With 11 seconds left in the first half and Ridgeview up 24-7, Damon Degraffenreid intercepted a Logan Ahlin pass at the 2-yard line that kept the Wolf Pack up by three scores going into the half.
In the third quarter, Joseph Spainhoward recovered a Lemoore screen pass that fell to the field, erasing a Darius Smith fumble on the previous drive.
Jamar Moya scored his third touchdown four plays later to give Ridgeview the commanding 31-7 lead in the third.
The final turnover came on a 99-yard pick-six for Jaleyn Prevost in the fourth quarter.
The Wolf Pack’s Lawrence White rushed for 116 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns.
“This means the world to me,” White said. “This was our goal for me and my teammates.”
Allen Perryman scored all three of the Tigers’ touchdowns on passes from Ahlin.
Earlier Friday, Pulliam, Lemoore’s four-year coach, confirmed he’d been put on administrative leave over an incident he said occurred following practice Monday outside the team’s locker room and out of his sight that resulted in a player breaking his foot and another being punched in the jaw.
Pulliam said he was told by school principal Rodney Brumit that he’s being investigated by the school for allegedly promoting the brawl with hazing.
“I’ve never been involved in hazing or any knowledge of that kind of stuff in 25 years as a coach,” Pulliam said Friday afternoon. “By no means do I condone anything like that. I am totally innocent.”
Pulliam did say, shortly before the fight and in a practice-ending team gathering, that a player’s birthday was mentioned by a teammate.
“I said, ‘Spank his ass.’ I mean, that’s what every red-blooded American does. That’s tradition, right?” Pulliam said. “But then I immediately said, ‘Kidding. Just kidding.’
“Nothing happened. We went to the locker room and everything was fine. But, outside of the locker room, apparently one of our players went after the kid, and a fight started. Then another kid got involved.”
The two players who fought the teammate with the birthday also were suspended for Friday’s game, Pulliam said.
School athletic director Brady Holaday – the team’s offensive coordinator last year – was the interim coach for the Tigers, with current coordinators Dean Cardoza (offense) and Scott Silva (defense) assuming their normal roles.
Pulliam said he was interviewed Tuesday by a Lemoore police officer assigned to the campus but hasn’t heard from law enforcement since.
He said Brumit, in a three-person meeting also involving Holaday on Wednesday, suspended him indefinitely as a coach but not as a physical education teacher.
D-VI: Kennedy 30, Avenal 14 – The pressure was greater this season, but the No. 1 Thunderbirds were up to the challenge.
Kennedy made it back-to-back titles, once again at Avenal’s expense, by beating the Buccaneers in Delano. A year ago, Kennedy won 41-20.
“It was hard-fought,” Kennedy coach Dennis Moody said. “Avenal played so hard. I’m just proud of how hard our guys played.”
The Thunderbirds (10-3) advance to the state regional playoffs next week.
“It feels good,” said senior running back David Zepeda, who had touchdown runs of 7, 3 and 56 yards while gaining 229 yards on 28 carries. “Making history in the city of Delano. It’s never been done. …
“We talked about it all summer: We were going to be back-to-back champions.”
The Kennedy defense stepped up after No. 2 Avenal (8-5) took 7-0 and 14-7 leads in the first half.
Moody said it was harder this year.
“There were no expectations last year,” he said. “This year, we expected to do this and other teams were gunning for us. So it was more difficult this year but just as sweet.”
Three times in the second half Avenal turned over the ball on downs when the score was close.
Zepeda’s 56-yard run, which made it 30-14 with 7:52 left, came on the first play after the Buccaneers had turned it over on downs for the third time.
A 32-yard field goal by Kennedy’s Alejandro Maldonado on the final play of the second quarter gave the Thunderbirds their first lead, 16-14. Avenal did not penetrate the Kennedy 30-yard line in the second half.
“I told our defense ... that if Avenal doesn’t score in the second half, you’re Valley champs and, boy, did they respond,” Moody said.
Avenal’s Manuel Alvarez had TD runs of 10 and 2 yards. He finished with 92 yards on 22 carries.
“We started off hot and we lost some steam in the second half,” said Avenal coach Charles Price, who returned to the team after Mike Crews resigned three games into the season.
Price was the coach of the 2014 Bucs but stepped aside because of the time commitment involved with his regular job, then agreed to return on an interim basis after Crews left.
“My hat’s off to Kennedy,” Price said. “They had a good game plan. Their athletes came and they wanted it.”
The Bee’s Andy Boogaard and the Bakersfield Californian’s Trevor Horn and Jeff Evans contributed to this report.