Bullard High almost let one slip away.
Up three touchdowns late in the third quarter, the Knights looked as if they were going to blow out Clovis West for the second time this season – this time in the quarterfinals of the Central Section Division I playoffs.
But then the Golden Eagles mounted their comeback.
They scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, then recovered an onside kick with 5:44 remaining and converted two fourth downs to come within 12 yards of a potential tying touchdown.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
I was scared for my life. That was my season on the line.
Bullard running back Charles Williams on the Knights needing a defensive stop in the final few minutes
“I was scared for my life,” Bullard running back Charles Williams admitted. “That was my season on the line.”
But just when all of the momentum seemed to be going the Golden Eagles’ way, Knights safety Mika Kruse delivered.
Kruse stepped in front of an Adrian Martinez pass intended for tight end Caleb Kelly near the end zone and made a game-saving interception that allowed third-seeded Bullard to hold on for a 35-28 victory over No. 6 Clovis West on Friday at McLane Stadium.
“I thought we were going to run away at a couple of different points, but it just never happened to us,” said Bullard coach Donnie Arax. “That was just Mika just making a huge play right there. (Clovis West) attacks the middle of the field very well with their passing game. Mika came through.”
Williams had another huge night, rushing for 175 yards and scoring on runs of 61, seven and two yards. The senior also reeled in a 68-yard touchdown catch.
But just as crucial was a defense that generated three interceptions, including two by Chris Lacey, who scored Bullard’s first touchdown on a 30-yard return of a pick.
Bullard (9-2), which defeated Clovis West 42-23 during the regular season, avoided getting eliminated by a Clovis Unified school for a fourth consecutive postseason.
Bullard had been eliminated by a Clovis Unified program in each of the past three seasons
The Knights advance to face No. 2 Liberty-Bakersfield (7-3) in a semifinal. Liberty eliminated No. 10 Central 40-27.
“It’s going to be tough; we’re going to Bakersfield,” Arax said. “A lot of teams go and die in Bakersfield. We need to be better than we were tonight.”
Clovis West (6-5) ends its run in the quarterfinals for the second straight season under second-year coach George Petrissans.
The Golden Eagles were done in by turnovers, steamrolled by the Knights’ ground game and took too long to find consistency with the passing attack.
Martinez, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, finished 11 of 36 for 129 yards and two touchdowns to go with the three interceptions. He rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns (19 and nine yards) on 20 carries.
Though he struggled to connect most of the night, he caught fire in the fourth and brought Clovis West within a touchdown after finding Kelly for a nine-yard score with 5:48 remaining.
Four seconds later, Clovis West recovered the onside kick at the 50.
“We were clicking and we had the momentum,” Martinez said. “Was feeling good.”
On Clovis West’s final drive, Martinez converted a fourth-and-10 with a 13-yard curl pass to Darian Owens.
Then on fourth-and-one, Martinez muscled his way past a Bullard defender in the backfield and gained five yards.
But then came the Eagles’ decisive interception.
3 Interceptions made by Bullard, including Mika Kruse’s pick with 2:41 remaining to seal the Knights’ victory
On second-and-10 from the 12, Martinez had intended to hit the highly touted Kelly from the right side on a slant.
Seeing the congestion toward the middle of the field, Kelly cut his route short and sprinted up. Martinez tried to loft it to Kelly. But Kruse stepped up and snagged it.
“Bad pass on my part,” Martinez said. “I really feel for our seniors right now.
“We were right there.”
Added Kelly: “I can’t believe it’s over. But it is. And it’s sad.”