With about a minute left in Saturday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI final, green and gold confetti filled the air above the Hilmar High stands.
Soon, coach Frank Marques would take flight, too, launched in a celebratory manner by junior Justin Rentfro.
The never-say-die Yellowjackets completed their Cinderella run to the program’s seventh section title, routing Trans-Valley League foe Modesto Christian 42-13 at Lincoln High’s Spanos Stadium.
“It’s a dream come true,” Marques said. “But we haven’t really talked about the blue (banner) this year. We just talked about winning every game, winning every down. These kids have been relentless every down. … Our focus all week has been let’s play every play and whatever happens happens.”
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Isaac Sharp rushed for 247 yards and two touchdowns and undersized outside linebacker Johnny Silveira anchored a swarming defense for Hilmar, which scored the final 21 points.
Silveira tilted the field in Hilmar’s favor with a scoop-and-score on the first play from scrimmage, and then continued to pound away at Modesto Christian ball carriers. He had two sacks.
“This about us coming together and being a family,” said Silveira, part of a talent-rich junior class.
The section championship is Hilmar’s seventh and first since 2011.
Marques has won three of those banners, including a historic victory over mighty Central Catholic in the D-IV final in 2008. The Raiders had won seven consecutive section titles before that loss.
Just as they were in 2008, fifth-seeded Hilmar (8-5) was cast as the overwhelming underdog Saturday.
No. 4 Modesto Christian (7-6) was the higher seed, a Trans-Valley League tri-champion, and a 41-13 victor in their first meeting on Oct. 20.
That loss was one of five for Hilmar, one of the final at-large teams in the section’s 78-team playoff field.
“Our last game of the regular season), we didn’t even think we would get in,” said Sharp, who wore No. 24 in honor of injured teammate Travis Maynard. “Since we did, our coaches told us everyone is 0-0 and past mistakes didn’t exist.”
Like that fabled 2008 team, Marques said this year’s team possesses a quality often talked about on campus and in the small rural community.
“That’s a different team,” Modesto Christian coach Mike Parsons said. “I thought we were a different team, too, but they just outcoached us in spots.”
Hilmar has maximized its second chance, ripping off a three-game winning streak. During that stretch, the offense has averaged 43.3 points per game, and the defense has stifled Summerville (three points) and Modesto Christian (13).
On Saturday, Hilmar recovered a fumble, picked off one pass, and held Modesto Christian scoreless on its final six possessions.
“Resilience is a big word, and I think we’re very resilient,” Marques said. “These kids just started believing. We took away the big picture. We had nothing to play for. When you make it really simple by taking away the big things, it becomes easy. They start believing in themselves and they start picking each other up. When there was a mistake, it didn’t matter. It really became a matter of the little things.”
Little things often led to big plays by Sharp, a blossoming talent in the backfield.
Sharp hit the 200-yard mark on just eight carries in the first half. He scored on a 79-yard burst up the middle to make it 14-0 and then answered Modesto Christian’s surge in the second quarter with a 62-yard scoring run.
Sharp spun away from contact at the line of scrimmage, and then won a footrace to the corner of the end zone to make it 28-13.
He also set up Rentfro’s touchdown early in the second quarter with a 39-yard dash to the 1.
“I was just running behind my line,” Sharp said. “I feel like we’ve finally got a chemistry going.”
Tristan Crowley accounted for the scoring in the second half. He darted in from the 4 in the third and then beat MC over the top with a 53-yard touchdown pass to Gaven Azevedo.
Paul Puaauli and Kioa Long found the end zone for Modesto Christian, which had its three-game winning streak snapped.
Long’s 26-yard reception cut the deficit to 21-13 with 4:22 left in the first half. The 6-foot-3 senior intercepted Crowley on the next possession, but the momentum was short lived.
“After that, we played in a fog,” Parsons said, “and never could get loose.”
Silveira set the pace with a 16-yard scoop and score on the game’s first play. Modesto Christian botched the handoff.
“I was really shocked,” Silveira said. “I saw no one even trying to jump on the ball. I was shocked. When I saw it just laying there, I was like, ‘Oooh.’ There was green grass in front me and I ran.”
The run isn’t over yet. Hilmar awaits its CIF State regional bowl draw, a first for program now tied with Folsom and Grant for the fourth-most titles in section history.