2018 Sonora High School Wildcats Stats and Achievements:

Mother Lode League Co-MVP: Evan Bearden

Mother Lode League Lineman of the Year: Garrett Anderson

Mother Lode League Offensive Player of the Year: Jake Gookin

1st Team All League: Tristan Hagstrom, Karson Clifton, Elijah MacDonald, Bryan Wynne, Dalton Cuneo

Character Award: Devun Battle

Offense: [Shows top three in total season yardage for each group]

Passing: [Yards (Completed/Attempted)]

Jake Gookin: 728 (49/115)

Rushing: [Yards (Rushes)]

Jake Gookin: 949 (114)

Karson Clifton: 641 (76)

Mike McKernon: 337 (40)

Receiving: [Yards (Catches)]

Evan Bearden: 239 (18)

C.J. Castleman: 115 (4)

Nick Crockett: 104 (5)

Defense: [Shows top three for each group]

Tackles: [Total includes tackles and assists]

Dalton Cuneo: 98

Tristan Hagstrom: 95

Evan Bearden: 93

Sacks:

Evan Bearden: 3

Garrett Anderson: 2.5

Elijah MacDonald: 2.5

Pass Defense: [Interceptions (Yards)]

Bryan Wynne: 6 (81)

Evna Bearden: 2 (74)

Devun Battle: 2 (4)

There were many moments throughout the 2018 Sonora High School Wildcats football season that hinged on the spectacular, and nearly miraculous.

But what stood out in the minds of the Wildcats’ coaching staff and senior players was the final five minutes against Foothill High School on Nov. 9, where the team took a one-point lead and avoided the end of their season.

“The way our kids fought back in that game and won that game, it was kind of a snapshot of our season,” said Coach Brian Craig. “In the end we found a way to pull it out. That's kind of how our season went.”

For most of the CIF Sac Joaquin Division V quarterfinals, the Wildcats never held a lead over the fifth seed, the Foothill High School Mustangs, who had defeated the No. 12 seed a week earlier. The Wildcats, coming off a bye-week and a six-game winning streak, were uncharacteristically sluggish throughout the game — they allowed multiple points to be scored against them and even hobbled their own chances on multiple turnovers.

In the fourth quarter, when senior quarterback Jake Gookin took a snap with the end zone in range, he said he knew it could be the team’s “final moment.”

“We had to make this or we weren't going to win the game,” Gookin said.

The ball soared into the outstretched hands of senior Evan Bearden, and after a successful PAT, the Wildcats were up by one point, 27-26.

But the miracles didn’t stop there.

The Foothill Mustangs advanced up to the one yard line, stopped at the last moment by senior Bryan Wynne. Three flags later, they were back on the 11 yard line. When the pass went up, there was Wynne again.

In the semi-final game against Colfax High School, the Wildcats fell 51-7. Their loss, Craig said, could not just be blamed on the wet weather, but on how Sonora High School was easily outmatched by their opponent.

“They would have beat us on a dry field. They are a very good team. It's just sad that we weren’t more competitive,” he said.

Both Bearden and Gookin said the players were upset by the loss, but they used the opportunity to remember their many successes throughout the season.

“The loss was difficult and knowing that that was our last high school football game was hard to take in,” Bearden said. “In the end we were still proud to go that far even with the rough start in the beginning.”

Advancing to the semi-finals was more than the team expected at the beginning of the season, said Gookin.

“We were kind of upset, but we were more kind of reflective on the good of the season and how far we came,” he said.

What it means to be a Wildcat

The start of the Sonora High School 2018 football season was marked by turmoil, both on and off the field.

The Wildcats started the season 0-4 and did not earn a touchdown until their third game against Escalon High School.

“We should be winning football games,” Craig said. “When you go 0-4 it makes everyone take a step back and say, ‘what's going on here?’ But when everybody bought in, kids and coaches, we turned it around.”

“We didn’t have a good rhythm and couldn’t get points on board,” Bearden said.

The team needed something to change, Gookin added.

So instead of looking to the field, the team looked inward, Craig said.

“Halfway through our league season the team all kind of sat down. We were talking about each one of us has our own back, no one else is going to support you besides your brothers on this team,” Gookin said. “Here at Sonora we really kind of preach family football. We need to trust one another on your team. No one matters besides who else is on the team.”

After the four losses, Craig said the team started wearing “I’ve Got Your Back” armbands to explicitly define their unity. Off-field “difficulties” put the team into some problems, he said, but the players “stepped up” to support one another through the end of the season.

“These bands really mean a lot to them,” he said. “It reminded our kids that you’re not in it for yourself, you’re in it for the guy next to you. That's why we break on family, we are a family.”

The night before the rivalry game against Summerville High School, the team joined together to discuss “what it means to be a Wildcat,” Craig said. With that show of unity, the team went on to win the Mother Lode League title and the CIF Sac Joaquin Division V semi-finals the for the fifth year in a row.
“It’s quite an accomplishment for this team,” he said.

What’s next for the Wildcats

Sonora High School has 17 seniors on the team this year, “a little on the high side” from a usual number of about 13, Craig said.

“It’s a fun group, there's no doubt this group found a way to have fun no matter what. These guys had a good time, and they still worked hard. I'm going to miss that,” he said.

Before sophomores were elevated to the squad, there were 28 on the team, he added.

Over the season, Craig said some of the standout players included Gookin, Bearden and Garrett Anderson.

Others were Tristan Hagstrom at linebacker, Karson Clifton who played through part of the season with a hurt shoulder and a dislocated finger, Dalton Cuneo who led the backfield as safety, and Bryan Wynne, who led the league in interceptions, Craig said.

“They are all outstanding young men that did a great job for us. All the guys did,” he said.

And it wouldn’t be the end of the football careers for some of the players, Craig added, with Bearden verbally committed to UC Davis and C.J. Castleman likely seeking out a spot with Modesto Junior College.

“I’m most excited about meeting the other recruits and playing with a great team and with great coaches,” Bearden said.

Other players, including Anderson, were also looking for opportunities to play in junior colleges, Craig said.

Gookin said he was not planning on playing football after his graduation from high school, and would be going “straight to work” as a seasonal firefighter.

Next season, the Sonora High School Wildcats will be banking on the experience of their underclassmen.

Nick Crockett, Gabe Milbourn, Justin Morgan, Mark Camara, Valor Farris and Elijah MacDonald will be returning for the 2019 season as team leaders, Craig said.

“They come and they work hard and they're physical. I think we’ll have a pretty good group of kids,” Craig said.

Bearden said he had one bit of advice for next year’s team, which could hopefully extend the Wildcat’s success to six MLL titles in a row.

“Build a relationship with your teammates and with your coaches so that you can build trust with one another and are able to rely on one another on and off the field,” he said.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or gricapito@uniondemocrat.com . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.

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