Strathmore High football coach Jeromy Blackwell already had his mind made up to for for two long before his quarterback Nick Salas used every bit of his 6-foot, 6-inch frame to stretch out the football across the goal line on fourth-and-goal in the second overtime.
With the Spartans trailing by one point and a trip to a CIF State Northern California Regional Bowl Game on the line, Blackwell gambled and it paid off as his star running back Joseph Garcia ran into the end zone untouched as Strathmore (14-0) outlasted Hilmar 53-52 in a thrilling 6AA CIF State Northern California Regional Play-In Game at McSweeney Stadium on Friday night.
“It’s Strathmore policy when you’re in a hostile environment to go for two,” Blackwell said. “If we’re on offense, we’re going for two. I love my team. We’re going to put our money on our premiere back. I’ve been doing this for 18 years. It doesn’t always happen like this.”
The Spartans rode Garcia to the tune of 31 carries for 220 yards and four rushing touchdowns. The senior, who came into the game with 2,117 yards and 36 touchdowns, also caught a 31-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
“This was a hard fought game,” Garcia said. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy.”
Hilmar (8-6) had its opportunities to put the game away but couldn’t.
The Yellowjackets battled from early deficits of 14-0 and 20-7 to take a 35-23 lead with 8:46 left in the fourth quarter.
Hilmar gouged the Spartans on the ground with the running back duo of Isaac Sharp and Justin Rentfro. Strathmore couldn’t keep Sharp from getting the edge as the junior carried the ball 18 times for 236 yards and three touchdowns. Sharp’s 10-yard touchdown run to start the third quarter gave the Yellowjackets their first lead of the game at 28-23 17 seconds into the second half.
However, Sharp was in and out of the lineup late in the game with leg and shoulder injuries.
“It was really rough for me to not be able to be out there and fight it out with my teammates,” Sharp said.
Rentfro took over as the main ball carrier when Sharp went out and he finished with 142 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries.
Rentfro’s 13-yard touchdown run gave Hilmar a 35-23 lead with 8:46 left in regulation.
A personal foul on Hilmar after the touchdown and a long return helped the Spartans start the ensuing drive at the Yellowjackets’ 33-yard line. Three plays later, Garcia scored on a 25-yard run to pull Strathmore within 35-30 with 7:09 left.
Leading 38-30, the Hilmar defense appeared to come up with the big stop it needed late, forcing the Spartans to turn the ball over on downs at the Yellowjackets’ 5-yard line with 1:13 left in regulation.
However, the Spartans stripped the ball from Rentfro two plays later and Lucas Raya recovered the ball to set up Strathmore at the Hilmar 3-yard line.
On the next play, Garcia scored a touchdown and then ran in the two-point conversion to suddenly tie Hilmar at 38-38 with 1:06 left on the clock.
“They got a helmet on the ball and it popped right out,” said Hilmar coach Frank Marques. “I feel bad for the kid. He’s heartbroken right now, but we had other opportunities to put the game away. If I had it to do over again, there’s no doubt in my mind I’d put the ball back in his hands again.”
The Yellowjackets had their chances late.
Bryan Millan, who had made a 43-yard field goal earlier in the fourth quarter, missed a 37-yard attempt with 11 seconds left with the game still tied at 38-all.
The overtime rules change in state playoff games with both offenses getting an opportunity to score from the 25-yard line instead of the 10.
Both teams exchanged touchdowns in the first overtime to send the game into a second overtime tied at 45-45.
Hilmar got the ball first in the second overtime and quarterback Tristan Crowley found Carter Azevedo for a 9-yard touchdown pass on third down. Millan made the extra point to give the Yellowjackets a 52-45 lead.
Hilmar’s defense had a chance to stop Strathmore on its second overtime possession as the Spartans had the ball at the 7-yard line on fourth-and-goal. However, Salas broke the pocket and was able to get around the left edge and stretch the ball across the goal line for the touchdown.
That set up the two-point try and Garcia cruised into the end zone to set off a wild celebration as the Spartans’ extended their season to a CIF State Northern California Regional Bowl Game next week.”
“I respect his decision to go for two,” Marques said. “I thought about going for two. I give a lot of credit to him for the decision. He put trust in his offense. I’m proud of our team. This team learned how to battle. We had so many opportunities to put the game away and we didn’t. We barely missed the field goal. But, man, what a game.”
Strathmore 53, Hilmar 52
7 8 —
7 7 —
ST – Joesph Garcia 23 run (Kick Good)
ST – Garcia 31 pass from Nick Salas (Kick Good)
H – Gaven Azevedo 5 run (Bryan Millan kick)
H – Isaac Sharp 65 run (Millan kick)
ST – Enrique Gomez 25 FG
H –Sharp 25 run (Millan kick)
H – Sharp 10 run (Millan kick)
H – Justin Rentfro 13 run (Millan kick)
ST –Garcia 25 run (Kick Good)
H – Millan 43 FG
ST –Garcia 3 run (Garcia run)
ST – Alonso Acevedo 25 run (Kick Good)
H – Rentfro 9 run (Millan kick)
H – Carter Azevedo 9 pass from Tristan Crowley (Millan kick)
ST – Salas 7 run (Garcia run).
Records: Strathmore 14-0; Hilmar 8-6.