As the Golden Regiment band played on, the 2017 Sonora High School football team formed their final post-game huddle of the year.
There were tears. From coaches and players.
Long hugs coupled with words of encouragement.
And snickerdoodles, courtesy of the Wildcat’s cheerleaders.
Friday night Sonora lost by a heartbreaking 56-55 to the Colfax Falcons.
A game of back and forth scoring would come down to one play, with seconds to play.
Chilly temperatures and a fine mist hung in the air as Colfax received the kick to begin Sonora’s game two of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Division V sections playoffs.
The Falcons would start on the 42 yard line and the quarterback came out throwing. One to the right, a rushing play and another pass to the left and still not enough for the first down. But a hurry-up play allowed the Colfax ball carrier to slip up the middle into the waiting tackle of Aki Loh.
Sonora’s Evan Bearden then came out of nowhere up the middle and slammed the Colfax quarterback to the ground for a 9-yard loss.
Thanks to the Bearden tackle for loss, Sonora forced the three and out.
A deep punt gave the Wildcats their start deep in their own territory.
The Colfax defense was stiff on the first series, and Sonora was forced to punt away on a fourth and three.
A Wildcat bounce set up the Falcons on their own 32 with five minutes off the first quarter clock.
Colfax barrelled down the field behind the strength and accuracy of their quarterback’s arm. And when he wasn’t throwing, the offensive line was banging their way along for short productive gains and the game’s momentum.
With 3:05 to go in the first, Colfax quarterback Ryland Heimann threw a slick pass to a receiver who stepped into the endzone from the one-yard line.
With 3:05 left, the Falcons led 7-0.
Sonora’s CJ Castleman carried the kickoff up to the Sonora 26 to begin the series.
Castleman got the call again and was finally pushed out of bounds at the Colfax 23 yard line.
Rico Sanchez gave the Wildcats their first look at the goal line with a run up the right before Jack Camara, shrouded in fellow ‘Cats, pushed into the endzone. With 1:39 left the score was tied 7-7.
Colfax called for the fair catch at the 30 yard line and the offensive tussle continued.
The Falcons again clawed their way down the field. As the first quarter expired they were back in Sonora territory with a first and goal.
One leaping Falcon later and Colfax took a 14-7 lead with two seconds off the second quarter clock.
Sanchez gouged his way down field to the Colfax 26, but the Colfax defenders swallowed up a mishandled pitch play and took over on their 32.
Colfax was able to create confusion on the next series as Sonora struggled to adjust their defense to the Colfax passing game.
Heimann threw another bomb of a pass into the endzone where Colfax’s Jake Green made an over the shoulder catch. With 8:37 left in the half, Colfax moved to a 21-7 lead.
Some miscommunication on the kickoff had two Sonora receivers jostling for the ball. They started on their 30.
Gookin took a tackle for a loss and Sonora faced a third and six.
Colfax got another sack for a loss and Sonora was forced to punt. They took over near midfield.
Sonora’s Dalton Cuneo had a clutch fumble recovery on a third and long play in Colfax territory, giving Gookin the ball on the 36 with about five to go in the half.
On a fourth and one attempt, Sonora’s Jack Camara picked up the first down.
With 2:18 Gookin found Bearden with a stripe into the endzone, moving the score to 21-14.
Colfax began deep in their territory. But within seconds they were back in Wildcat territory after a pass interference call.
What looked like another Falcon passing touchdown was erased after an offensive pass interference call.
Although a boisterous Colfax crowd disagreed, their quarterback got most of the penalty yardage back with a pass to an open receiver near the 20 yard line.
With 17 seconds left in the half Heimann found a receiver up the middle for another Falcons touchdown. Their lead moved to 28-14. That’s how the first half would end.
“We didn’t stop battling,” said coach Bryan Craig. “That’s kind of our season. This team battled all year long.”
That unwillingness to give up is what Craig’s most proud of this year.
To start the second half Castleman and Sanchez were deep with Sanchez taking the kick up to the 32.
And Gookin did some Gookin magic, tricking the Colfax defenders and dancing his way into the endzone with just 19 seconds off the clock. Sonora slimmed the Falcon lead to 28-21.
“He’s (Gookin) just gotten so good at reading the defense,” said Craig. “He’s just excelling and he’s only a junior. I can only imagine what he’s going to do next year.”
The officials called a fair catch after the Colfax receiver motioned with his hands, turns out that wasn’t the receiver’s intention.
But the Falcons were stuck with their position at their 20 yard line.
The Falcons punted on a fourth and two. The kick was a good one and bounced to the 30 before Sanchez grabbed it and picked up two.
Another slippery Gookin touchdown evened up the game 28-28 with 7:57 left in the third.
Sonora forced a turnover on downs on the next series and took over on their 44 yard line with 6:22 to go in the third.
Gookin found Sanchez who scored, but the points were taken off the board after a Sonora penalty moved them back to midfield.
But a third a short turned into a touchdown run and Sonora took their first lead of the game, 35-25 with 5:01 left in the third.
Colfax’s Heimann turned a third and long into a long running play, carrying the ball through an open midfeld and up to the ‘Cats’ 30 before sending a pass into the hands of Jake Green for a Falcons touchdown.
The score was tied 35-35 with 3:56 to go in the third quarter.
Gookin again tricked the defenders with a fake handoff and scored with 3:18 to go in the third, moving the score to 42-35.
Not done, said the Falcon offense as they swept down the field. Sonora gifted them with a penalty and Colfax was in the red zone again with less than a minute to go in the third.
Colfax scored seconds into the fourth quarter to even the score 42-42 with 11:10 to go in the game.
Less than a minute later another see-you-later run from Gookin gave Sonora the lead again, 49-42.
At this point Colfax fans were starting to pace. And every time Gookin would cross the goal line, there was a collective shake of the head.
On the next kickoff, Sonora fans were certain they had recovered a fumble.
Their boos rumbled across Dunlavy Field.
But Colfax had it and started yet another offensive drive. Sonora recovered a fumble and took over on the Colfax 48.
All eyes were on Gookin on this series.
He carried the ball down into Colfax territory, but on a pitch play, the ball was again mishandled by the ‘Cats and Colfax recovered the ball.
Colfax made their way down to the Wildcats’ red zone. An interference call gave the Falcons a fresh set of downs with 5:08 left to play. Two plays later and the Falcons again evened the score at 49 with 4:37 remaining in one team’s season.
Sonora nearly lost the kickoff, but came up with the ball at the 30.
A holding penalty on Sonora pushed back them behind the line of scrimmage. Gookin threw up the middle to Sanchez but the ball was just out of reach on the third down attempt.
Sonora would rely on their defense to make the stop as they punted the ball on fourth and long. It was a wobbler and went out of bounds on their 41 with 2:49 to go.
Colfax converted a fourth and two with two minutes left.
The Falcons then picked up a delay of game penalty and set up a tricky third down and goal at the 16 yard line with 1:17 to go.
Fourth and goal from the 16.
And then a rushing touchdown to give Colfax the 56-49 lead with 1:07 left.
The Wildcat faithful clamoured for a rally as the Falcons kicked it away.
Gookin was almost free for another score before being dragged down from the back.
The ‘Cats had 58 seconds to even the game.
And Gookin got all the attention again as the clock continued to run.
A rushing play. A pass to Evan Bearden. Clock down to 28 seconds as Gookin unleashed a bomb into the endzone and into the hands of Bearden.
Then it was over.
Sonora went for the two-point conversion. For the win. Colfax stood them up at the goal line.
Sonora lost by one, 56-55.
When asked if he would call the last play of the game any different, Craig’s answer was a firm no.
“We figured we couldn’t stop them in overtime,” he said. “We figured if we’re going to win it, let’s win it right now.”
The goodbyes to seniors were the hardest, Craig said. Especially since so many had been sidelined by injuries early in the season.
“The rest of the seniors just poured their hearts out tonight,” he said.