What was supposed have begun at 7 p.m. Thursday ended at 10:45 a.m. Saturday at Lamonica Stadium, a near 40-hour odyssey of high school football that involved wind, rain, lightning and, in the end, sunshine.
And the biggest upset to date in the Central Section, right?
Wrong, says Central quarterback Nick Szpor: “Our mindset this week was it’s not going to be an upset; we’re just going to win because we know what we’re capable of,” he said not long after gaining three yards on third and 2 with 1 minute and 30 seconds remaining, clinching the Grizzlies’ 21-20 Tri-River Athletic Conference win over top-ranked and previously unbeaten Clovis.
Clearly, it was worth the wait for embattled Central, which was 1-5 – but with narrow misses against No. 2 Bullard (21-17) and No. 8 Buchanan (17-13) – when all this was supposed to have started Thursday at the same site.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Fresno Bee
But lightning delayed the opening kickoff by 1 hour and 15 minutes, and Lamonica was occupied Friday night with another game.
Then, a second volley of bolts suspended it at nearly 11 p.m., the Grizzlies leading 21-12 with 6:06 remaining and Clovis facing first and goal on the 1-yard line.
It would resume 35 1/2 hours later, a dreadful wait for Szpor.
“It was the worst type of anxiety ever,” he said. “Couldn’t sleep, couldn’t relax. Can’t describe it. Horrible.”
“Once it was over, rewarding – big time.”
The Grizzlies, who have beaten Clovis three straight, survived a determined Cougars drive to the wire.
When play resumed at 10:30 a.m., Clovis scored on its first play on quarterback Sean Kuenzinger’s one-yard plunge. He followed with a conversion pass to Christian Copeland, who made a one-handed catch in the left flat before racing into the end zone. That cut Central’s lead to 21-20 with 5:55 remaining.
The Grizzlies went three-and-out, punted and the Cougars set up shop on their 39 with 4:14 to go.
Kuenzinger, who would finish with 392 passing yards on 29 of 40 completions, connected with Coltin Velasquez for 23 yards, J.J. Wills for 22 and Tyson Fraser for six.
But Central did force Clovis into a fourth-and-four situation on the Grizzlies’ 17 with 2:30 showing.
Cougars coach Rich Hammond, after calling timeout, turned to Jacob Hinrichs for a 34-yard field-goal attempt. The junior struck the ball well, but it sailed a foot wide right.
Three plays later, Szpor powered behind center Max Diaz and left guard Ray Sanchez on third and two, converting the first down easily.
He then took a knee on two more plays and it was over – after 39 hours and 45 minutes.
“This was so big for these kids,” said Mark Hetherington, Central’s interim coach following Justin Garza’s latest bout with cancer treatment complications. “There were no pregame speeches today. It was, ‘Hey, this is a players’ game and it’s yours to finish for the last six minutes. That’s what they did, and it makes it a little sweeter to know they did it against a cornerstone program of our Valley.”
Yes, Clovis was 6-0, but not without suspicions. The wins included escapes against Paso Robles (27-24), Stockdale (49-42) and Centennial (28-27).
“Can only live by the skin of your teeth for so long,” Hammond said. “And it finally caught up to us.”
Misfortune did also. The Cougars lost three fumbles, missed two field goals and two conversions, played the entire game without All-TRAC tight end Clayton Alexander (broken tibia), and played Saturday without two-way stars Josh Hokit and A.J. Nevills.
Running back/safety Hokit (North Carolina) and defensive lineman/tight end Nevills (Northern Iowa) were on recruiting visits for wrestling, where they’ve helped lead Clovis to state titles in their first three seasons.
The trips were planned long ago, and purposely following a Thursday game so as to avoid conflicts with football. Lightning wasn’t in the plan.
And certainly the Cougars’ fumbles weren’t, either, the first of which occurred after reaching the Grizzlies’ 3 in the final minute of Thursday’s first half; the last returned 30 yards for a touchdown by sophomore linebacker Diotry Brewer with 7:28 left in the fourth for the decisive score.
Brewer said he and lineman Samuel Satele teamed to sack Kuenzinger, causing a fumble and a mad scramble for a ball that was batted backward a couple times before Brewer secured it and raced to the end zone for a 21-12 lead.
“I got up,” Brewer said, “saw the ball fumbled around; it popped out and I did what I had to do.”
How did he feel when he awoke Saturday morning? “No concern. I knew we had it. We’ve got it in us; it’s there. We just had to finish.”
So they did, as opposed to a month ago at Koligian Stadium against Bullard, which stuffed a fourth-down Grizzlies run that was attempted one foot from the end zone.
The Knights (6-1) will surely replace Clovis atop The Bee section rankings next week. Buchanan (5-2) will climb as well.
“We knew how close we’ve been and that we have the coaches to get us there,” said Szpor, who has rebounded from offseason ACL surgery. “And we’re not going to stop here.”
Fresno clips Wildcats in OT – The score was tied in overtime Friday night at McLane Stadium, and Fresno faced first and goal from the Sunnyside 2, so there was no doubt No. 2 would motor behind No. 76, right? Surely, this time. As opposed to what happened near the end of regulation.
And, yes, No. 2, Nyric Hinton, aimed behind No. 76, 6-foot-1, 311-pound right guard Ofa Kuma and scored the touchdown that would hold in an epic North Yosemite League duel – 40-34 over the 15th-ranked Wildcats.
“He’s a real big dude,” Hinton said of Kuma. “He’s good.”
The Warriors had first possession in overtime (each team gets one). But instead of beginning on the Sunnyside 25 – CIF OT policy – they began on the 12 because of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Wildcats.
Hinton then rushed for five yards twice before scoring.
Sunnyside, benefiting from a pass interference penalty, followed with a first down on the Fresno 12.
Wildcats junior Nate Hughes – who threw for 296 yards – completed a two-yard pass to Ricky Valderrama before mishandling a snap for a six-yard loss. Hughes was then sacked by Geno Maciel and Angel Magana for another loss of nine yards before targeting Joshua Woods with a fourth-down pass in the right corner of the end zone. But, it fell incomplete, having been defended well by Fresno cornerback Lee Major, who displayed his exceptional jumping ability honed as a Bee All-Star basketball player.
Remarkably, Hinton wasn’t breathing hard following a 34-carry, 223-yard performance against a Division II Sunnyside team that arrived 4-2, 1-0 in the NYL and delivered wins over D-I ranked opposition in No. 20 Clovis East (61-42) and No. 16 Stockdale (27-21) in nonleague play.
“I’m a little tired,” the 5-8, 174-pounder said, “but I’m good. That’s what all the training in the summer is for.”
Hinton was coming off a 20-carry, 247-yard effort in a 35-23 NYL-opening win over Hoover.
But with the Warriors (6-1, 2-0) trailing 34-31 and facing third and goal on the 2 in the final minute of regulation, he surprisingly didn’t get the ball.
Instead, Fresno called a play-action pass that had quarterback Khory Day fake a handoff to Hinton and throw toward Andrew Contreras, but it was batted away by Wildcats linebacker Chris White.
Francisco Pantoja then kicked a 20-yard field goal to tie it 34-34 with 54.8 seconds remaining.
Warriors coach Ray Reyes pleaded guilty afterward, saying the play-action call was the only one he made all night, having delegated the rest to offensive coordinator Joe Marquez.
“I butted into the play and Joe was mad at me afterward, so my kids saved my skin,” Reyes said. “Now Joe’s talking to me again.”
Sunnyside, down 14-0 in the first quarter, was charged by sophomore Deshawn Ruffin’s 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second quarter.
The Wildcats surged in front 27-17 in the third quarter behind Hughes, who generally surveyed the field expertly while identifying his second and third reads and completing 20 of 30 passes.
Williams sets Bullard record in mismatch – Charles Williams’ 336 yards will go down as the single-greatest rushing performance in the history of Bullard football.
That it was accomplished in a 45-14 blowout of D-IV opponent Madera South in a predictable County/Metro Athletic conference mismatch is what troubles Knights coach Don Arax.
At issue is Bullard’s place in a league featuring only one other Division I school, Edison, while other opponents range from D-II (Sanger) to D-III (Madera and Memorial) and D-IV (Madera South).
Programs from the section’s other 11 Division I schools play in leagues featuring primarily D-I opposition. The Tri-River Athletic Conference, featuring the five Clovis Unified schools and Central, is all D-I, while five of the six teams in the Southwest Yosemite League (Bakersfield, Centennial, Frontier, Liberty and Stockdale) are in D-I.
“We feel it’s not fair to us and Edison that we’re in a league with D-II, D-III and D-IV schools,” Arax said. “And it’s not fair to a team like Madera South, who have a a nice football team and an outstanding quarterback. But they are going to get beat up in our league, and their coaches have to keep their confidence up going into the D-IV playoffs.”
Arax’s solution is a power conference in the Fresno/Clovis area that would feature Clovis Unified schools Buchanan, Clovis, Clovis East, Clovis North and Clovis West, as well as Central and Edison for football only.
And the veteran Knights coach hopes section commissioner Jim Crichlow steps in and helps facilitate the change.
“There needs to be discussion because the league as it is now makes no sense,” Arax said. “I want to be razor sharp when we go to the playoffs.”
But the league placement issue is not to take away from the monster night by Williams, who averaged 21 yards per carry on his 16 attempts while moving past Clifton Rogers (327 yards in 2007) in the school record book.
Williams scored on runs of 1, 1, 72 and 96 yards.
“We’ve had a lot of great running backs over the years,” Arax said. “To hold that record says something about Charles. He looked fast in pregame. I knew he was going to have a big game.”
Hanford survives scare– Ryan Johnson’s 10-yard touchdown run with 2:55 remaining and Cole Taber’s interception at the goal line on the final play allowed No. 12 Hanford to escape with a 28-21 win over Golden West on Friday in a game that was postponed Thursday because of lightning.
The Bullpups (8-0, 4-0) emerge as one of three remaining undefeated teams in the section with No. 17 Tulare (7-0) and No. 4 Ridgeview (7-0) following losses in Week 7 by Clovis (21-20 to Central) and Immanuel (43-20 at Bishop Diego-Santa Barbara).
It was the second straight nail-biter for Hanford after the Bullpups rallied from an early deficit and held off a late Redwood charge fueled by Hanford turnovers for a 28-26 WYL victory Oct. 9.
Hanford has played the past four weeks without star receiver/defensive back Juwuane Hughes (broken arm) and with several starters battling through an assortment of injuries.
“We’re banged up,” Bullpups coach Josh Young said. “We’re fighting through some stuff and guys are having to step up. We’re not winning the style points column, but they are still winning games and fighting through adversity. We’re learning from these tough games, and they will help us down the road. We learn a lot more from close games like this than from blowing guys out.”
Hanford built a 21-7 lead by the third quarter on Johnson touchdown passes of three yards to Leonard Glass and 23 yards to Brandon Sanchez and a 27-yard Joseph McDaniel run.
Golden West battled back to tie it 21-21 in the fourth.
“We’re finding a way to get it done,” Young said. “It’s a testament to the team as a whole, getting through tough times.”
The Bullpups remain on pace for a showdown with rival Lemoore to decide the WYL title in the Nov. 6 Milk Can game. The Tigers are also 4-0 in the WYL.
Hanford’s last hurdle is Mt. Whitney on Oct. 23 before a bye. The No. 9 Tigers, who beat Mt. Whitney 49-0 on Friday , are idle next week and face El Diamante on Oct. 30.
The Bulllpups hope to have Hughes back against Lemoore. He will be evaluated by a doctor Oct. 26.
Last season, Hanford and Lemoore entered the Milk Can game 9-0, with the Tigers winning 24-13.