Chowchilla High was 2 minutes, 25 seconds away from the school’s first state championship Saturday night.
And the standing-room only crowd at Henry Massaro Stadium sensed it, rising with a deafening roar after the Redskins took a 15-14 lead late in the fourth quarter of the CIF State Division IV-A football championship.
But then Sierra-Manteca quarterback Mark Vicente led his team on a 10-play, 81-yard touchdown drive and a 20-15 win.
Ecstasy and agony switched sidelines in what seemed like the blink of an eye, after what had been a defensive battle got interesting in the final 4:51.
Sierra made plays when they had to, and that’s just the way it goes sometimes.
Chowchilla coach Alex Pittz
First Chowchilla struck, scoring on an Alex Gutierrez 7-yard touchdown run and gutsy 2-point conversion to take its first lead.
The drive started at the Timberwolves 34 thanks to a 13-yard punt return by senior Anthony Stewart and a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty.
Stewart, usually a running back in the Redskins’ wing-T, took over at quarterback and Chowchilla scored in six plays.
It took coach Alex Pittz no time at all to make the decision to go for two. (He credited his business partner, Tim Pistoresi of UBS Financial, with predicting during the week that Pittz would be faced with such a choice Saturday night.)
Chowchilla ran its touchdown play again, and this time Gutierrez made one cut to reach the end zone.
Pittz said Stewart, Gutierrez and running back Danny Chavez “were warriors and I love them to death. I wish we could’ve sent them out on a better note, but it wasn’t because they didn’t leave it all out on the field.”
118 rushing yardage for Chowchilla, after averaging 280 entering Saturday’s state championship game
Vicente had a big hand in the outcome, too. Despite three straight incompletions to start the drive, he converted on fourth-and-10 from his 19 with a 25-yard pass to Mark Paule Jr. Then he scrambled on a third-and-10 and found Jimmy Galindo for 26 yards.
On the next play, Vicente ran for 20 yards down to the Chowchilla 10. And two plays later, he found Paule for the winning 10-yard touchdown.
Chowchilla got to the Sierra 37 in the final 50 seconds before running out of time.
The late offensive bursts by each team were in contrast to stout defense early.
Vicente got loose for a 65-yard touchdown run on a scramble when a screen pass broke down during the Timberwolves’ first offensive possession. The Redskins held Sierra to 36 yards on 18 plays for the remainder of the first half.
Chowchilla’s shotgun wing-T didn’t come alive until its final possession of the first half.
The Redskins punted or turned the ball over on their first five possessions.
But thanks to a shanked punt by the Timberwolves, Chowchilla was set up at the Sierra 28 with less than 2 minutes to go before the half. Chavez had a big 26-yard run before he punched it in from 3 yards out for a touchdown that tied the score 7-7 with a minute to play in the half.
The Timberwolves retook the lead on the opening possession of the second half when Vicente found Daniel Wyatt for a 33-yard touchdown on fourth-and-13. Vicente did what he did all night and bought time with his legs before finding his receiver in the end zone.
“He’s very resilient and doesn’t show any quit,” Sierra coach Jeff Harbison said of his junior quarterback.
Sierra held Chowchilla to 118 yards rushing on 37 carries and 167 total yards. The Redskins came in averaging 280 yards rushing and 325 total.
Vicente finished 14-of-25 passing for 152 yards and two touchdowns. He added 87 yards on 15 carries.
“They made plays. Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way,” Pittz said. “Sierra made plays when they had to, and that’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
Sierra-Manteca 20, Chowchilla 15
S: Mark Vicente 65 run (Marcos Castillo kick).
C: Danny Chavez 3 run (Ryan Selby kick).
S: Daniel Wyatt 33 pass from Mark Vicente (Marcos Castillo kick).
C: Alex Gutierrez 7 run (Alex Gutierrez run).
S: Mark Paule Jr 10 pass from Mark Vicente (run failed).
Rushing: Sierra-Manteca, Daniel Wyatt 1-(-2), Mark Vicente 15-87, Mark Paule Jr 12-67. Chowchilla, Bernardo Bustillos 1-7, Ronnie Reyes 3-11, Alex Gutierrez 6-34, Ryan Selby 5-9, Anthony Stewart 4-0, Danny Chavez 15-68, Giovanni Ruacho 3-(-11).
Passing: Sierra-Manteca, Mark Vicente 14-25-1-152. Chowchilla, Giovanni Ruacho 1-3-0-24, Ryan Selby 2-4-1-25.
Receiving: Sierra-Manteca, Mark Paule Jr 4-65, Jimmy Galindo 5-51, Daniel Wyatt 3-33, Tim Brown 2-3. Chowchilla, Alex Gutierrez 1-24, Damon Perry 1-12, Jayson Cantrell 1-13.