Hanford High, which played its first football game in 1899 but didn’t win its first major title until last year, suddenly has a program of gold.
Having won two consecutive Central Section championships, the Bullpups are now a win from a state title after spinning a three-point halftime lead into a traveling showcase Friday night and throttling Sonora 42-18 in the CIF State North Division IV-AA Regional.
Ryan Johnson passed for 242 yards and three touchdowns, Juwuane Hughes caught all of his six passes for 119 yards and three scores in the second half, Joe McDaniel rushed for 183 yards, and junior nose tackle Hunter Parks owned the final two quarters as Hanford struck it rich in the heart of gold country.
Up next: Hanford (13-1) will host Bonita Vista (12-2) at 6 p.m. on Dec. 19 for a state crown. Bonita Vista defeated Canyon-Anaheim 24-21 in the South Division IV-AA Regional.
It came on a night temperatures plunged to 33 by game’s end, but it will be nothing but a scalding and 13-1 Bullpups outfit that will return to Hanford to play Bonita Vista (12-2) at 6 p.m. on Dec. 19 for a state crown. Bonita Vista defeated Canyon-Anaheim 24-21 in the South Division IV-AA Regional.
“It’s exciting bringing this back to our community, our town,” said Hughes, who appeared to be lost for the rest of the game after diving for an interception while playing safety in the final minute of the first half and crashing hard to a synthetic surface that Bullpups coaches and players likened to “concrete.”
Not only did Hughes return, he took over the game while humiliating the deep backs of a 12-2 Sonora team that was coming off a Sac-Joaquin Section D-V championship.
Hanford, leading 20-18 in the final minute of the third quarter, ran away and hid in the hills here at 1,800-foot elevation as Hughes scored on receptions of 56, 22 and 17 yards.
“I kind of got my bell rung a bit, which woke me up and got my game going,” Hughes said. “Perfect play calling and perfect execution – it’s easy to make plays.”
Juwuane goes quiet when he gets banged up. But then he gave me the thumb’s-up. I saw him move around and knew he was good.
Hanford coach Josh Young
Bullpups coach Josh Young didn’t know if the 5-foot-10, 170-pounder with four section rings (two basketball, two football) would come back when the team entered the locker room at halftime.
“It was touch and go,” Young said. “Juwuane goes quiet when he gets banged up. But then he gave me the thumb’s-up. I saw him move around and knew he was good. What he did and what the team did in the second half was awesome.
“The biggest thing is, I want to coach these kids for another week, man. They’re a special group of guys, and to coach that one more game in a state title game is a dream come true. You can’t ask for anything more as a coach.”
Johnson, after a cold first half, was 12 for 14 in the second while completing a range of textbook passes.
The game’s first three possessions resulted in turnovers, including two fumbles by Sonora as Wildcats quarterback Sam Page was careless with pitches in the triple option.
Johnson, whose heretofore brilliant postseason suddenly reversed in a 6-for-14 first half, overthrew two potential touchdown passes, and Hughes barely stepped out of the end zone on another pass, denying the Bullpups yet another score.
183 Rushing yards for Hanford’s Joseph McDaniel, adding to his school season record
Page then marched his team to the Hanford 12, but big stops by Bullpups linebackers Kaipo Barnes and Derrek Meek forced Sonora to settle for Riley Garrett’s 25-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 14 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Then the Bullpups took command. Briefly.
McDaniel popped runs of 16 and 11 yards, setting up his six-yard touchdown in a half in which he rushed for 116 yards on 15 carries. He has rushed for a school season-record 2,010 yards.
Soon after, McDaniel juked cornerback Jesus Rodriguez to the turf on a 38-yard bolt before he bulled a 240-pound lineman into the end zone for a two-yard score and a 14-3 Hanford lead with 8:55 left in the half.
The Bullpups were then in a position to create serious separation, but Sonora gained 25 yards on a third-and-nine duck of an option pass by Kane Rodgers to Jacob Dowler. Worse for Hanford, it was caught among four defenders.
Six plays later, Page left-handed a 33-yard TD pass to a wide-open Rodgers, fullback Brett McCutchen ran in the conversion, and the game’s complexion had totally changed – the Wildcats hacking the deficit to 14-11 with 4:38 remaining in the half.
But the game-changer in a 78-year-old venue that seats all fans on one side in a cement structure carved into a mountainside had Johnson, on third-and-15, roll right and launch a bomb that found Hughes in stride for the 56-yard score with 26 seconds to go in the third quarter.
Johnson followed that with an equally throw of perfection to Brandon Sanchez in the back of the end zone for a two-point conversion and a 28-18 lead.
Three plays later, Barnes rocked Page, forcing a fumble that Will Pepe recovered.
One play later, Hughes caught a short pass, toyed with Sonora’s secondary, danced into the end zone for the 22-yard score and the Bullpups were headed to Neighbor Bowl for a game unthought of two years ago.
“A dream,” Young repeated.
Championship: Bonita Vista-Chula Vista at Hanford, 6 p.m. Saturday