The Bret Harte Bullfrogs traveled west of the San Joaquin River and west of cornfields just above the river bottom, within view of Mount Diablo and the Diablo Range, to where hummingbirds flitted near the Delta Charter Dragons’ new Elias Gamez Memorial Field and won their first game of the 2019 season, 33-8.

Both teams started their non-league Sac-Joaquin Section game shorthanded. Bullfrogs head coach Casey Kester said before the game he had 16 players suited up for Bret Harte’s varsity team.

Dragons head coach Jeff Tilton said before the 11 a.m. scheduled kickoff, “We’re like Bret Harte. Low on numbers. We’ve got a bug going through the team. I hope we’re going to have our quarterback today.”

Tilton estimated he had 19 to 20 players suited up for varsity on Saturday.

Bullfrogs players were happy and relieved at the end of the game, which evened their overall non-league record to 1-1. Mother Lode League play will begin in October.

“First game, we didn’t have the bodies,” Thomas Grant, 16, a strong side guard and strong side end for the Bullfrogs, said immediately after the game. “We had I believe 14 players that day. We had a couple more today. The difference is we been working on conditioning and executing. Stay low, to get in on tackles and get leverage. Low man always wins.”

Junior lineman Kodiak Stephens played every play of the game Saturday and accounted for at least two sacks of Dragons quarterback Robert Cancilla. He stood up from where he was lying exhausted after the game, and pulled his mouthpiece out to speak.

“Team wasn’t ready a couple weeks ago,” Stephens said. “The team we faced today, they have some low numbers same as we do. We just brought intensity and they couldn’t match it. We started blowing them off the line and they couldn’t keep up.”

Tyler Cabral, 16, a junior tailback and linebacker who plays in the middle and inside on defense, scored three touchdowns and made numerous tackles. He said he and his teammates were better prepared this week, and they had three sophomores from junior varsity on their squad Saturday.

“We’re assembled as a real good team now, we came in with a chip on our shoulder,” Cabral said. He echoed Stephens when he said, “We brought intensity and it made a difference.”

One of the relative newcomers to Bullfrogs varsity football is Manny Nava, a 16-year-old Bret Harte senior who’s been playing centerback in soccer since he was a toddler. He got recruited to kick for Bullfrogs football last year, and this year he’s been asked to take on extra duties as a cornerback.

“It’s different,” Nava said after the game. “You get used to it after a while.”

Assistant coach Dylan Parsons was a constant vocal presence up and down the Bret Harte sideline, yelling instructions and encouragement, especially when Nava contributed on key pass coverage.

“Yeah! Manny!” Parsons hollered at one point in the third quarter. “Manny great job! Way to be the playmaker, that’s a playmaker!”

The Dragons suited up Saturday in green shirts, gray pants and black helmets. They scored first in the second quarter to make it 8-0 with a 2-point conversion. The Bullfrogs wore white shirts, white pants, and purple-and-gold helmets. They answered with two scores to make it 14-8 at halftime.

Parsons and Bullfrogs defensive coordinator Craig Cook kept on their players all through the third and fourth quarters, especially when a Dragons player broke free from Bret Harte defenders.

“Quit arm tackling!” Cook bellowed at Bullfrogs linemen and linebackers between downs in the third quarter. “Will you guys learn to use your friggin’ shoulders and wrap!?!”

Bret Harte head coach Casey Kester said after the game that it always feels good to get a victory. He emphasized his players made it hard on themselves with penalties and mistakes they created, and they kept the game closer than it should have been for much of the first half.

Going forward, a win’s a win, but Kester is still unsure about Bullfrogs roster numbers through the end of this season.

“If we get through this game and El Dorado then we get five, six guys back,” Kester said. “Three are suspended and we have three working off their 10 practice days now.”

Kester said his program’s varsity numbers are still concerningly low, and the marginal numbers for Bret Harte prompted Sonora High School to reschedule their homecoming to be against Calaveras High School, rather than Bret Harte.

Kester said, “We’ve still got injuries to deal with, and we’ve grades coming up, so we could lose some players to grades for our last three games, Sonora, Summerville, Calaveras.”

Contact Guy McCarthy at or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.