On its final breaths, Chowchilla tasted sweet revenge as it escaped with 20-16✔ win at Washington to capture the Central Section Division IV crown in front of more than 4,000 fans at John Ventura Stadium.
The Redskins’ defense forced the Panthers (10-4) to turn over the ball on downs twice in the final three minutes of the game, avenging a 30-12 loss to the North Sequoia League champs earlier this season to win their sixth section football title in school history.
This Chowchilla team also will go down in school history, as it became the first to advance to the CIF state playoffs. The Redskins (11-2) will find out their opponent Sunday for next week’s Northern California Regional game.
“It’s special – especially with all the turmoil the school is going through with the Redskins name (being banned as a team mascot by the state in October) and all that,” coach Alex Pittz said. “The community is so supportive and we just love each other so much that it’s just nice to bring this home and give the community something to feel great about.”
Washington opened the scoring as quarterback Ashanti Ross found the end zone on a five-yard run in the first quarter.
Chowchilla, however, found its answer on the ground.
We still made quite a few mistakes that really hurt us tonight, but they overcame … Fighting through adversity, that’s what we didn’t do the first time.
Chowchilla coach Alex Pittz
Senior Alex Gutierrez scored on a 16-yard run to tie it. He finished with 10 carries for 74 yards and two touchdowns a week after returning from broken hand injury suffered Oct. 16 in Chowchilla’s loss to Washington.
The Redskins went in front 13-7 before halftime on a four-yard TD run by Danny Chavez. Chowchilla drove 68 yards on three plays – all runs. Senior Anthony Stewart took the first play 27 yards down the sideline and Chavez followed with a 37-yarder to set himself up on the next play.
The Redskins ran the ball 50 times against the Panthers for a net total of 338 yards.
Chowchilla won the sixth section football championship in school history, but the 2015 team is the school’s first to advance to a CIF state regional game.
“It’s kind of the style of this offense,” Pittz said. “We’re going to wear you down. Our senior running backs and offensive line really stepped it up.”
Washington made it 20-16 at the end of the third quarter on Ross’ 28-yard touchdown pass to Devontae Massey that was set up by a 56-yard kickoff return by Massey following Gutierrez’s second touchdown for Chowchilla.
The Panthers, however, were shut out in the fourth quarter to snap their win streak at six games.
We just didn’t make some of the plays we needed to make, but I’m real proud of our boys, you know. I hate to come out and lose the Valley championship game, but if we’re going to lose to a team, I’m glad it’s a (North Sequoia League) team that is representing our section.
Washington coach Dennis Randle
Washington converted two first downs but followed it with four straight incomplete passes – including a drop by Carlos Silva over the middle to turn the ball over with 2:59 to go.
Washington’s defense held Chowchilla to a three-and-out on the next drive to give its offense one last chance with 1:22 remaining.
The Panthers never got past their own 27.
On first down, Ross found a wide-open Johnny Rodriguez 50 yards downfield, but the ball bounced off Rodriguez’s hands and chest to fall incomplete.
After that, the Redskins put it away, sacking Ross on second down. Ross downed the ball on third down to preserve the final seconds for one last pass, but it was incomplete.
“It’s always hard to beat somebody twice,” Washington coach Dennis Randle said. “My hat’s off to Chowchilla. They had a helluva game plan and played a heck of a game. We had some shots. We just came up short, you know. That’s how football goes.”