The motto was: Finish.
Immanuel High’s leadership group came up with the team slogan before the season and coach Matthew Armstrong preached it all year.
Finish practices strong, finish workouts hard, and finish the season how last year was supposed to end in the Eagles’ minds.
Top-seeded Immanuel took the message to heart and to the next step Friday, defeating No. 7 Mendota 35-20 for the Central Section Division V championship at Reedley Stadium.
Eagles senior Ryan Case scored three touchdowns with a 60-yard catch, a 48-yard run and a 1-yard plunge, then provided the finishing touch with an interception with 2:22 remaining.
Immanuel (10-2), which a year ago lost in the D-V final, captured its first section championship since capturing the D-IV title in 2005 and awaits word Sunday on its division and opponent in the CIF state regional playoffs.
After we lost this game last year, we’ve been working hard every day to finish it.
mmanuel senior Ryan Case
“After we lost this game last year, we’ve been working hard every day to finish it,” said Case, who had 14 carries for 115 yards and four catches for 85 yards. “We’ve been thinking about (last year’s) game. That really helped us a lot.
“I wanted this a lot, but I wanted to do it for my brothers around me ’cause everyone wanted it.”
Mendota (9-5) continues to deal with the toll of playing up a division after the Aztecs won D-VI titles in 2011 and 2012. Its shot at a D-V championship was ruined by four turnovers (two fumbles, two interceptions) and a pair of drives that came up empty inside the red zone.
Aztecs quarterback Junior Cardenas completed 19 of 38 passes for 332 yards, including touchdowns of 54, 20 and 24 yards.
200 Total yards by Immanuel senior Ryan Case, who gained 115 on the ground on 85 on receptions
On the most pivotal play of the night with the Aztecs down eight points with about five minutes left, Mendota faked a field goal that would have been a 21-yard kick and attempted a pass into the end zone. It fell incomplete.
“That was the game right there,” Armstrong said. “They score and get more momentum, who knows hows this game turns out.
“Our defense has been playing great the last three weeks. They hung in there and did their job.”
Immanuel followed with a 17-play, 96-yard drive that ended in a 19-yard touchdown from senior quarterback Caleb Paulson to senior Chris Rosedale with 4:29 left.
Paulson finished 14 of 23 for 172 yards and two touchdowns. Rosedale had five catches for 57 yards.
Mendota’s next drive ended on Case’s interception.
Immanuel won its first section title since 2005, when the Eagles took it all in D-IV. They’ve won nine section titles in school history
“To be in a championship game, you can’t have four turnovers,” Mendota coach Beto Mejia said. “And you can’t win games when you don’t score in the red zone.
“This is just part of building a program. We just got to learn how to win in Division V. The whole purpose for me getting out of Division VI was for these situations to be competitive. We’ll get better from this.”
Within minutes of celebrating the championship, Armstrong kept the season theme going about winning at the state level.
“Don’t be satisfied,” Armstrong told his team. “This section championship is awesome. But I want to be the first team that wins a state championship!”