LE GRAND — Christian Williams anticipated the play and broke as soon as the ball was thrown.
The junior defensive back hit Waterford receiver Angel Sosa at about the 2-yard line and held on. That gave teammate Steven Garcia time to come over and drive the pair out of bounds at the Le Grand 1 as time expired in the first half.
It was a bend-without-breaking kind of evening for the Le Grand defense at The Fog.
The Wildcats moved the ball consistently all night (283 total yards), but could only muster a field goal in their five trips inside the Bulldog 35-yard line. Le Grand was much more efficient, scoring on three of its four possessions in the first half and cruising into its fifth consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 title game with a 31-3 victory over its Southern League rivals.
The Bulldogs will look for their fourth blue banner in a row against Golden Sierra, which defeated Mariposa 35-28 in overtime, next Saturday at the Grape Bowl in Lodi. It’s a rematch of last year’s semifinal game. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.
“We get to go up against the best offense in the league, ours, every practice,” two-way lineman Eduardo Bedolla said. “We don’t panic when the other team gets in the red zone. We may give up some yards, but we’re confident we can deliver a stop when we need one.
“We’d been waiting all season for this one. We were ready. Now, hopefully, we can go get another blue banner.”
Things started out business as usual for the Bulldogs (11-0).
Running back Ryan Martinez fumbled on the Bulldogs’ opening possession, but quickly atoned with scoring runs of 6 and 4 yards to give Le Grand a 14-3 lead with 5:07 left in the opening half. Martinez rushed for a game-high 159 yards on 23 carries.
Le Grand made it 21-3 when Frank Contreras hit a diving Victor Martinez for a 20-yard touchdown pass.
Waterford (6-6) had an opportunity to answer and take some momentum into intermission, but came up a yard short on the play by Williams and Garcia.
“That was huge,” Le Grand coach Rick Martinez said. “It was just a great play by a couple of guys that were swarming to the ball.
“It denied them a big opportunity and it sent us into the locker room fired up.”
The Bulldogs couldn’t quite wield that fire to open the second half, however.
The Le Grand offense wasn’t nearly as crisp after the break, running just eight plays in the third quarter. The Bulldogs did manage to turn a botched snap on a Wildcat punt into a 25-yard Alejandro Nava field goal that pushed LG’s lead to 24-3, but additional offense wasn’t needed.
Waterford turned the ball over on downs at the Le Grand 6- and 34-yard lines on their next two possessions, before Juan Gomez put the game away with a 40-yard touchdown reception.
The big tight end caught the ball down the left sideline on a crossing rout, made a nice jump cut and then rumbled the last 30 yards for the touchdown.
“We kind of did the same thing against them in the regular season where we had a big goal-line stand,” Gomez said. “Our defense really comes together when we get down in the red zone. It’s why we’re so tough to score on.
“This was a good win, and we’re just grateful to get one more chance at playing for a section title. As a senior, that has been a part of the last two, it’s pretty special to be going for a third.”
Staff writer Sean Lynch can be reached at (209) 385-2476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.