Shannon Pulliam, Lemoore High’s fourth-year football coach, didn’t mince words Friday night, not after watching his defense throttle another opponent while clinching the school’s second appearance in the Central Section finals.
“We’re the best defense in the Valley,” Pulliam said. “Those guys have played over and beyond.”
The second-seeded Tigers sure looked the part Friday, coming up with eight second-half sacks in a 13-5 victory over No. 3 Sanger in a Division II semifinal. Lemoore, which won its only section crown in 2006, will play at top-seeded Ridgeview on Dec. 4 for the title.
6.3 points per game allowed by Lemoore in its nine-game winning streak after starting the year 1-2
Clinging to a 10-5 halftime lead, the Tigers (10-2) forced punts on the Apaches’ first five possessions of the second half. Lemoore limited Sanger (10-2) to minus-2 yards on those five possessions while holding a ninth opponent to 13 points or fewer this season. The Tigers have allowed 6.3 points per game during a nine-game winning streak.
“It was all of us, the whole defense,” said junior defensive lineman Kelechi Ndoh, who had 1 1/2 sacks. “We came out hungry. We wanted to go to Valley.”
Still, the Apaches had an opportunity to tie the score in the final minutes with a touchdown and 2-point conversion, but a drive that reached the Lemoore 40 came to a crashing halt when Sanger had a botched play on first down, a pass batted down on second, a sack by Noah Wright on third down and a stop by Rigoberto Carrillo after a 4-yard gain on a fourth-and-12 play.
I just had to go up and make a play. He actually had it first, but I grabbed it out of his hands.
Lemoore’s Allen Perryman on his 23-yard catch for the only touchdown of the game
Three straight Trey Perryman runs produced a first down on the ensuing drive that allowed Lemoore to run out the final 2 minutes and make amends for a semifinals loss last year that ended a perfect season.
“We had some unfinished business tonight,” Pulliam said. “We didn’t want to let it slip away again.”
Lemoore opened the scoring with Josh Roa’s 29-yard field goal on the game’s first drive.
Sanger responded with a safety in the second quarter when Joel Lopez tackled Logan Ahlin in the end zone, but the Tigers came back with Ahlin’s 23-yard touchdown pass to Allen Perryman for a 10-2 lead.
Perryman, who told coaches he could beat the man coverage he was facing, took the underthrown ball away from an Apache defender for the game’s only touchdown.
“I just had to go up and make a play,” Perryman said. “He actually had it first, but I grabbed it out of his hands. I had to make my best effort because I knew it would have an impact on the game.”
A year after then second-seeded Lemoore lost 30-22 on its home field to No. 3 Dinuba, the Tigers get their shot at Ridgeview, which beat No. 5 Sunnyside 56-16 in the other semifinal.
“I’m excited,” Perryman said. “The whole team is ready to play. Hopefully we come down with a win.”