It took a little convincing from Bobby Staley’s friends to get him into football this season. Baseball is the sophomore’s primary sport.
Friday night, he rewarded his Caruthers High teammates’ persistence in a big way.
Staley’s 1-yard touchdown run with 15 seconds left lifted Caruthers over Firebaugh 49-42 for the Central Section Division V championship.
“I never thought it was going to come to me,” said Staley, who initially wasn’t going to play football because of the risk of injury. “I said in the huddle, ‘This is for you guys.’ I wasn’t going to get stopped.”
Said junior running back Chris Puga, who scored four touchdowns: “It’s good that we have him out there. He’s one of our brothers and he just put in that work.”
The undefeated Blue Raiders (12-0) beat the Eagles (10-3) 42-7 in the regular season on their way to the top seed in the division.
But Firebaugh finished strong to earn the No. 3 seed and was every bit Caruthers’ measure Friday, as the teams traded touchdowns from start to finish. Quarterback Jeshua Gutierrez and Tylor Palmer connected on four touchdown passes and Hunter Hogue ran in twice for scores for Firebaugh.
The Eagles had the ball with 3 minutes remaining after an Imanol Arredondo fumble. But Caruthers got the ball back on Hogue’s fumble at the Blue Raiders’ 47-yard line, setting up the winning drive.
Caruthers secured its fifth section championship but first since winning D-V in 2006. The Blue Raiders advance to the state playoffs; the California Interscholastic Federation will announce semifinal pairings Sunday.
“When they faced adversity, they came through again,” said Caruthers coach Brandon Ward, who grew up in town and played for 28-year former coach Tom Casanova. “They’re amazing. Those kids are awesome.”