The Sonora High School Wildcats are champions of the Mother Lode League for the fifth year in a row.
For much of the first half at Dunlavy Field in Sonora, Summerville High School was in contention for a shocking upset over the Wildcats, but a second half onslaught solidified a definitive 39-7 win for the home team.
Sonora High School has gone 29-0 in the Mother Lode League over the past five seasons.
Coach Brian Craig and fullback Elijah MacDonald credited the team’s victory on the staunch defensive play throughout the game.
“I think we did a really good job. Our defense really stepped it up tonight and that’s what got us this league championship,” MacDonald said.
Craig said the team started “a little lethargic,” but credited the defense with scoring 14 points and allowing no touchdowns against their side throughout the game.
“At the beginning of the season, it didn’t look like we were going to make playoffs,” Craig said. “Now we’re looking forward to going as far as we can.”
Summerville High School Coach Sean Leveroos applauded his team’s effort both in the game and throughout the season.
“This whole season our coaching staff was blessed with a group of kids that worked hard and played against all obstacles that came their way,” he said. “They fought. The kids continue to inspire the coaching staff for giving what they had to give.”
Summerville High School’s football season ended Friday night and the team will not advance to the playoffs.
Prior to the start of the game, the Wildcats held a five-game win streak and topped the Mother Lode League after their victory over Calaveras High School 21-7 on Oct. 19.
Summerville High School lost 21-7 last week to Amador High School in Sutter Creek. The Bears are (3-6) overall this season with their only Mother Lode League win against Bret Harte High School on Oct. 12.
As the Wildcats descended the concrete staircase in the stands of Dunlavy Field 20 minutes before game time, the crowd roared with support. The final game of the season, they hoped, would be dedicated to reinforcing Sonora High School’s reputation as the top football team of the Mother Lode League, and champion of their cross-county rivals.
But the game didn’t start the way the home team expected.
Following a short kickoff, the Bears receiver handed-off the ball to his teammate. The player was frozen in place as senior wide receiver Justin Roberts arced a horizontal run in front of him and took the ball from his hands.
As if protected by an invisible barrier, Roberts shot through the Wildcat kickoff team and returned the ball for the first touchdown of the game.
Only 15 seconds into the game, Summerville High School was up 0-7 and emphasizing to Sonora that this game may not be coronation they presumed it to be.
But the Wildcats would not allow the Bears to bask in the glow of their unexpected score.
After two plays, senior quarterback Jake Gookin raced through a scrum of players and put up Sonora High School’s first points of the game.
In the next minutes, Summerville High School failed to make any threatening advances upfield and were forced to punt. After multiple runs brought the Wildcats to the gateway of the end zone, it was a tall throw to the outstretched arms of senior Evan Bearden that earned them a touchdown.
The PAT, forced backward because of a foul on a two-point conversion attempt, went awry. With 6 minutes remaining in the first quarter, the score was 13-7.
Most of the rest of the half was characterized by both teams exchanging control of the ball. Sonora High School appeared to be the more resilient of the teams, with their defense adequately stopping the Bears after four turnovers. The guile of Summerville High School held the score at their limited deficit however, and competitive throughout the quarter.
Sonora High School appeared to be on track to widen the score again, but just as the Wildcats neared the red zone, a fumble retrieved by the Bears returned them control.
Again, the Wildcats regained the ball from a punt, but fumbled to Summerville High School in the opening minutes of the second quarter.
The dominating exploits of the Wildcat defense forced a punt, but in an apparent trick play, the Summerville High School punter dodged Bearden as he bore down on him and earned a first down.
The Bears failed to convert again, but gained the ball on yet another turnover from the Wildcats. A long pass intended for a Wildcat receiver was nabbed by senior defensive back Jordan Craddock for an interception.
Only minutes later, Sonora High School had control of the ball yet again when Craddock picked another ball out of the air for another interception. But Sonora High School crafted their own response, with senior Brian Wynne intercepting an errant throw and returning the ball for a touchdown.
With only 10 seconds remaining in the first half, the Wildcats were up 19-7 after a two-point conversion attempt failed.
In the second half, Sonora High School was determined to make up for lost time and deny the Bears any chance at redemption.Unable to take advantage of any turnovers in the second half, Summerville High School never recovered.
After the Wildcats led a slow slough upfield, MacDonald forced the ball into the end zone on a two-yard run. Another two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving the score at 25-7.
After a Summerville High School punt to the Wildcats, a long throw to senior C.J. Castleman put Sonora High School right back into scoring contention, but the team was unable to convert later for a first down.
But in the final seconds of the third quarter, the Wildcats broke out again with senior fullback Dalton Tarter running over 50 yards to the Bears 13-yard line.
The Bears put up admirable stops on multiple plays, but when the Wildcats reached the one-yard-line with about nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, they were able to push the ball through.
Just a few plays later, the Bears fell victim to a fumble only five yards from their own endzone and MacDonald retrieved the ball for another touchdown.
As the minutes wound down, Sonora High School replaced their usual starters with some new players to make a push downfield. The group came close, but was unable to get the final score.
The game ended 39-7.
Will Deboard, Assistant Commissioner for CIF San-Joaquin Section, said Mother Lode League champion Sonora High School, and league champions from the Trans Valley League, the Pioneer Valley League and the Sierra Valley Conference would advance to the Division V playoffs.
The San-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs were updated in the 2018-19 school year to a 12-team bracket from an 8-team bracket, with the top four seeds earning a bye-week and home games on Nov. 9.
Deboard said the results on Friday night will dictate how Sonora High School is seeded in the playoffs, and whether they have their first playoff game on Nov. 2 or Nov. 9. A computer algorithm will determine Sonora High School’s ranking among the 12 teams set to advance, he said. A committee of former coaches and administrators will then fix potential errors to avoid any head to head or same-league matchups from earlier in the season.
The CIF San-Joaquin Section website will broadcast a live selection of the playoff seeds at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Deboard said.
Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.