Clovis News: Sports

Bullard wins 1st football title

A Bullard High team often difficult to manage on weekdays, unforgiving on Friday nights and, in the end, super in the slop at McLane Stadium, has ended a chase that lasted more than a half-century for the school.

Using a Daniel Snelling 30-yard fumble return for a touchdown as a launching point, the second-seeded Knights scored 21 unanswered points within 17 minutes of the second half and closed a 13-0 season with a 42-31 win over No. 8 Centennial for the Central Section Division I football championship before about 5,000 fans.

Nearly 4,000 of them, stuffing the stadium's north side, defied the rain while hoping to see history -- Bullard's first section football title in the 54-year history of the school.

They did, after Snelling's score, a 29-yard touchdown pass from Kerr Taubler to a leaping Jajuan Hammond, and a Taubler 1-yard rush spun a 24-21 deficit into a 42-24 lead with four minutes to go.

Helping secure the advantage was Devan Mack, who punished the Golden Hawks (9-5) for 99 of his 132 rushing yards in the second half.

When it was over, the Knights having withstood a 303-yard passing performance by Centennial's Cody Kessler, hundreds of fans and players danced in the mud at midfield.

And the man most responsible, alumnus and 10-year coach Donnie Arax, saluted the parents who remained loyal.

"It's about the people who stuck with Bullard, and those are the people I'm going to celebrate with tonight," he said. "It's about these kids, my family and those parents who sent their kids to Bullard and put trust in myself and the school."

The Knights blended free spirits and toughness.

"They were harder to manage than most of the teams we have had," Arax said. "But I'm sure a lot of people would have liked to have had our problems. They were football players like none we've ever had."

In going unbeaten -- which, Arax allowed, beat the odds against a stiff schedule -- Bullard conquered the standard-bearers of section D-I football -- Clovis West twice, Clovis East and Bakersfield.

Now, at 75-38-1 under Arax, there's no question the Knights have joined the neighborhood, if they hadn't already.

But there was suffering along the way.

"We cried on the field after our last game as sophomores , we cried on the field as juniors , but we came into this season saying, 'We're not going to cry on the field this time; we're going to win this thing,'" senior linebacker Caleb Justice said.

He was one of six three-year starters on a Bullard team that long pointed to this moment. And it was another, fellow linebacker Snelling, who swung the momentum by returning Myron Moore's fumble for a touchdown and 28-24 lead with 9:12 remaining in the third quarter.

This occurred two weeks -- and into the same west end zone -- after Snelling returned his blocked punt 15 yards for a pivotal touchdown in a 35-9 quarterfinal rout of Clovis West.

And when he reached the end zone again this time?

"Uh, I'm back. I'm just back," he said.

Arax found it fitting that the play was delivered by Snelling, who often could be difficult to handle from Monday through Thursday.

"Daniel's a very emotional kid, and we had an up-and-down relationship," Arax said.

"But what a football player, and I wouldn't trade him for any linebacker in the Valley."

David Rische, overshadowed for three months by Hammond, caught six passes for 114 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown from Taubler on Bullard's first play.

"It's been a long climb," Arax said. "This is for a lot of Bullard Knights for five decades. It's pretty special."

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