The Strathmore High football team trailed one time in the CIF State Division 6-A.
Unfortunately for the Spartans and what seemed like the entire population of the eastern Tulare County community of 2,800 who packed the stadium on a 39-degree evening, it came in the final 6 seconds of a thriller of a finish for visiting St. Patrick/St. Vincent-Vallejo.
After driving 82 yards in 15 plays over the final 3:33 of the game, junior Gabe Fuentes kicked a 19-yard field goal to lift the Bruins over Strathmore 29-28 on Saturday, denying the Spartans a perfect season.
“It’s tough, you know,” Strathmore coach Jeromy Blackwell said. “They drove the football down the field. Our defense has led us the whole time. ... We’re proud of them.”
A Damian Valencia interception with 5:49 left in the game put Central Section Division VI champion Strathmore (14-1) in position to become the first team from Tulare County, and only the fourth from the Central Section, to capture a state football title.
It’s tough, you know. They drove the football down the field. Our defense has led us the whole time. ... We’re proud of them.
Strathmore football coach Jeromy Blackwell
But St. Patrick (13-3) forced a punt after holding Strathmore star running back Joseph Garcia, who exploded for 420 yards and seven touchdowns in last week’s 62-22 win over Horizon Christian Academy-San Diego during the Southern California Regional, to 7 yards on three rushes and took possession at its 17-yard line down 28-26.
“I thought it was ice,” Blackwell said of Valencia’s interception. “We needed to get a first down, and I probably got a little conservative and we didn’t pound it away.”
The Bruins marched down and had it first-and-goal from the Strathmore 3-yard line before the Spartans’ defense came up with three straight stops short of the goal line.
On fourth down, St. Patrick coach Lane Hawkins sent out Fuentes for only his second field-goal attempt of the season, and the team’s second of the past six seasons. It was true.
“I thought to myself I needed to make this. Everyone was counting on me. It was one of those moments you only get once in a lifetime, and I made the most of it,” Fuentes said. “There was a lot of stuff going through my mind. What would happen if I missed, what would happen if I made it. And what was flowing through my mind the most was being successful because thoughts of negativity always stray you away from the success that’s right in front of you. I had positive thought right after I kicked it, and after I saw it go in, I knew I ended it with a great moment.”
Strathmore took a 28-14 lead into halftime, with Garcia scoring on runs of 5 and 28 yards, while Nick Salas connected with Andres Lara for touchdowns of 50 and 17 yards.
St. Patrick/St. Vincent rallied in the second half, getting a 6-yard touchdown run from Akil Edwards in the third quarter and a 72-yard scoring run from Marshel Martin in the fourth that cut the Bruins’ deficit to 28-26. The Bruins had a PAT blocked by Noah Alcantar after their first score and a 2-point run stuffed after the second to preserve a two-point lead.
Strathmore, which had a 27-point second half last week while putting away Horizon Christian, was held to 54 yards of offense while being shut out in the second half by the Bruins.
“We didn’t get the win, but we always have next year,” said Lara, a junior. “It was a great season. We’re always going to be champs.”