Clovis News: Sports

Football title within reach for Tigers, but Rams await

For the first time in four years, the Battle of the Pump game means more than bragging rights for the intradistrict football rivals.

Hanging in the balance for Reedley and Fresno City today at Reedley High is a Valley Conference championship and the right to play for the Northern California championship.

Fourth-ranked Reedley (6-3) can capture the conference outright with a victory in the 1 p.m. regular-season finale. Seventh-ranked Fresno City (5-4) needs a victory to force a tie for first, but would need help to make the NorCal title game.

"It feels good to control your own destiny," Tigers interim coach Randy Whited said. "But we're not making a big deal out of it. We know the teams will be pumped up enough. They know what's at stake."

If Fresno City wins, it could result in a first-place logjam with Reedley, San Joaquin Delta and either College of the Sequoias or Sierra. In that case, a tie-breaker system would sort out the conference representative for the NorCal game.

Fresno leads the overall series 38-13 and the Battle of the Pump 23-9 since it began in 1972. Last year, the Tigers handled the Rams 41-28 to clinch their fifth conference title in the past seven years.

This edition will match Reedley's bruising defense against a Fresno City offense that lost leading rusher Antoin DeWalt to injury but still has weapons in mobile quarterback Emmanuel Lewis and tailbacks Andrew Jones and Josh Tobar.

The Tigers lead Northern California in scoring defense and have a state-best 24 interceptions; eight each by Trey Wolfe and Dontea Smith, who also has a 39.1-yard kick-return average with two touchdowns.

"Smith is also as good a kick return as I've seen in JC football," Rams coach Tony Caviglia said. "Every time he touches the ball he makes a big play."

Reedley's offense has been spotty at best and leading rusher Avery Horn, a Michigan transfer, is coming off a rib cage injury but will play, Whited said.

Fresno City will try to build off an upset of San Joaquin Delta. The Rams scored the final 21 points and won 28-14.

"That showed the character of this team," Caviglia said.

Expect a close game. This is Reedley, after all. The Tigers have been involved in eight games decided by six or fewer points. If that's the case again, they have the one player who may make the difference: Kicker Curtis O'Neill has been almost automatic. He's made all 23 extra-point kicks and is 12 of 18 in field goals.

The freshman out of Clovis East High has connected on six field goals of 36 yards or longer, including two 50-yarders. His school record-tying 53-yarder beat Sierra 25-22 as time ran out, and he kicked a 28-yarder with two seconds left in Reedley's 30-27 victory against Diablo Valley.

"It hasn't been pretty," Whited said, "but these kids find ways to win."