Golden West High senior running back Gonzalo Rodriguez saw a lot of potential from his team in fall camp, even after the way the 2016 season ended
Chowchilla scored the winning points in a bizarre final play, beating the Trailblazers 26-24 in the Central Section Division IV semifinals at Groppetti Community Stadium on the Golden West campus.
Still, Rodriguez said he and his teammates believed they could get over the hump. They’ve done that, and so much more.
Golden West (12-2) will oppose defending state champion McClymonds-Oakland (13-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday on the Trailblazers’ home field for the state Division 5-AA championship. It’s the first state final game ever in Visalia.
Never miss a local story.
“No doubt in my mind that I knew at fall camp that we were gonna be in the Valley game against Selma or CVC,” said Rodriguez, whose team defeated Central Valley Christian 27-21 in overtime for the section D-IV championship. “We had said it last year as a team after we lost against Chowchilla that we were gonna be in the Valley game, but to be playing in the state game I never expected to really go this far.”
Golden West senior wide receiver/cornerback Ben Davis said of reaching the pinnacle of state competition, “It’s really hard to wrap your head around. Even my offensive coordinator told me this season that we’re going to state and I never really thought about it until now.”
Trailblazers coach Paul Preheim said the message heading into Saturday’s game is “to be ourselves.” After a 23-20 loss to El Diamante in the West Yosemite League, Golden West has won four straight.
Rodriguez is the main offensive threat with 318 carries for 2,107 yards and a team-leading 31 touchdowns, including three touchdowns in a 41-21 victory over Big Bear in the state semifinals last week.
McClymonds hasn’t lost since Sept. 9, 2016 against Paso Robles, a 48-44 defeat that the Warriors avenged this season by winning 20-9 at Paso Robles. Two weeks after that game, Paso Robles won 27-7 at Clovis North, and last year the Warriors beat Clovis North and Lemoore.
“McClymonds is a very talented team,” Preheim said. “They are fast and athletic. We have to limit big plays and play intelligent, mistake-free football.”
Win or lose, Preheim said it has been a successful season in which the team picked up the school’s first section football title. He’s been the coach since 2011, not long after Golden West suffered an 0-10 season, and he’s seen tough times, too. Prehehim’s seven-year record is 38-40.
“The success is because of all their hard work throughout their careers at Golden West,” he said. “It’s not an accident. It’s earned by their sweat. It also is because of the foundation set by the teams before them that changed the culture of the school’s football program. Some people see their 2-8 or 1-9 record and don’t realize what they were doing to change the culture and set the stage for the future.”
State football finals
6 p.m. Saturday
Division 5-AA: McClymonds-Oakland (13-0) at Golden West (12-2), Groppetti Community Stadium
Division 6-AA: Strathmore (15-0) vs. Orange (13-2), Fred Kelly Stadium at El Modena High