The excitement over the postseason run by the Hilmar High football team has reached Tennessee.
A former Yellowjackets player, who is now a high school coach in Tennessee, has been following Hilmar’s run to a Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI championship.
“He sent us a great play over Huddle,” said Hilmar coach Frank Marques. “We put it in this week. It’s a helluva play. It’s a play I’ve never seen before. Oh my gosh, it’s a great play.”
Marques, his players and the Hilmar fans are enjoying this unexpected run in the playoffs. The Yellowjackets have caught fire in the postseason after finishing the regular season with a 5-5 record.
Hilmar (8-5) will try to continue that run when it hosts the 6AA CIF North Regional Football Championship play-in game against Strathmore (13-0) at McSweeney Field on Friday night.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
“I feel like I’m that surfer that is on the crest of the wave,” Marques said. “I don’t really understand how it’s happening. I’m just enjoying the ride.”
Because it was unexpected after an up and down regular season, it’s made it more special for everyone involved. The seniors have extended their season and the underclassmen are getting valuable experience.
“When we got our playoff opportunity we just gelled as a team,” said senior receiver Carter Azevedo, who leads the team with 11 touchdown receptions this season. “We started playing for each other and we’ve been able to pull off three upsets in a row.
“Section championships are always special, especially your senior year. But if you go 10-0 you expect to win int. It was fun for us to upset teams each week. When we beat Summerville, it was like that’s good but they won’t beat Escalon. It was the same thing after we beat Escalon, ‘Oh, they won’t beat Modesto Christian.’ Those upsets did make it more special.”
Marques says it’s also helped adding the coaches from the lower levels into the mix. With the junior varsity and freshmen seasons over, those coaches have been helping out at the varsity level and it’s helped.
“What it is is the kids are functioning as one unit,” Marques said. “We have some kids who weren’t making plays early in the season making contributions in the playoffs. It’s interesting to see how we’ve caught fire. All my coaches are pitching in, the kids are buying in and everybody has just come together. We have six extra coaches now helping out from the lower levels.”
The postseason run should also pay big dividends next year.
Hilmar already had juniors like Isaac Sharp (1,097 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns), Justin Rentfro (568 rushing yards and 90 tackles on defense), Joao Silveira (94 tackles) and Cole Cozine (five interceptions) making big contributions.
Add the 10 sophomores that were called up after the regular season, including the three who have earned starting spots in Treven Crowley (saftey), Aiden Azevedo (receiver) and William Sousa (linebacker) and the future looks very bright for Hilmar.
“Absolutely,” Marques said. “Our JV team was 9-1 and should have been 10-0. They were in position to score when the clock ran out. We have a really good sophomore group as a whole. Our freshmen team went 8-1. The 10 sophomores we’ve called up have now spent four weeks on varsity.
“That’s a ton of reps in practice and for the sophomores who are getting in games right now, you can’t put a price tag on it.”
The Yellowjackets face a formidable opponent in Strathmore, which is 27-1 the last two seasons. The Spartans reached a state bowl championship game last year and lost 29-28 to St. Patrick-St. Vincent.
Strathmore is led by running back Joseph Garcia, who has rushed for 2,117 yards and 36 touchdowns. Quarterback Nick Salas has thrown for 1,309 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“They have a really good running back and a tall quarterback who throws the ball well,” Marques said. “They are pretty well balanced, but they like to run the ball down your throat.”
The playoff run has been nice but the Yellowjackets aren’t satisfied. They want to keep this thing going.
“Winning a blue banner is special, but we already had six of those hanging in the gym,” Marques said. “We’ve never been to the next level. We’re the first team to play in the state playoffs. We want to be the first team to make a run at a state title. We want to be the first team to hang a state banner in the gym.”