Dillon Johnson knows his Modesto Christian football career is ending soon.
In one of his last games at linebacker, the senior made a play he or his Crusaders may never forget.
Clinging to a three-point lead and with Hilmar inside Modesto Christian’s 25-yard line with a little under two minutes left, Johnson ran toward scrambling Yellowjackets quarterback Ryan Teixeira and somehow managed to strip the ball away and recover it.
Game over as Modesto Christian, the Bee’s No. 1 medium-school team, beat Hilmar, 24-21.
“I grabbed him and I held on and reached around and grabbed the ball,” Johnson said. “It was an amazing feeling that I knew I had it (the ball) and sealed the game.”
With star junior defensive end Xavier Carlton missing the game after being ejected last week, the Crusaders were without one of their key pieces on defense, creating a lot of doubt among some media outlets.
“All of the seniors looked and said “X” isn’t our whole team so we just kind of rallied behind that,” Johnson said. “We did our jobs and that’s all we said, do your job.”
Yes, Friday’s game was the most points allowed by the Crusaders this season but with their backs against the wall, the defense forced three turnovers, including an interception in the end zone by junior safety Mario Hernandez with 30 seconds left in the half.
“It’s a great group,” Crusaders coach Mike Parsons said. “They keep battling. Nineteen guys suited up against 42. I couldn’t be happier.”
Parsons characterized his senior class as “special” and four of his seniors shined Friday.
Johnson had the game-ending forced fumble and recovery, running back Jose Hernandez had 12 carries for 87 yards and a touchdown, running back Isaac Schinmann had six carries for 57 yards and a touchdown as well as four receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown, and quarterback Hayden Sauser was 9 of 12 for 149 yards and a touchdown.
“This season is fueled by Coach Mack (assistant Jeff Martin who passed away earlier this year),” Schinmann said. “We have a crazy senior group and we love the sport. We are just trying to get a ring and we are really motivated to win TVL.”
A ring that they didn’t get last year when the Yellowjackets (6-2, 2-2) beat them in the Sac-Joaquin Seiction Division VI title game.
Modesto Christian looked crisp and ready early and scored two touchdowns in the first four minutes on a 53-yard TD run by Schinmann and a 64-yard run by Hernandez.
Teixeira connected with senior running back Issac Sharp for 55 yards with a little under eight minutes left in the first quarter to cut the lead to 14-7. Hernandez would make a 31-yard field goal with 4 minutes, 10 seconds left in the quarter to increase the lead to 10.
But then, the offense started to struggle.
“We came out really good and then they kind of figured us out,” Parsons said. “(Hilmar head coach Frank Marques), he is a legend. He will be in the high school hall of fame someday. They made good adjustments and took away what we were doing and we just had to grind it out.”
What they were doing was running the ball effectively with three runs over 20 yards in the first quarter but none the rest of the game.
After a couple of stalled drives on offense, the Crusaders ran a couple of play-action passes, including a 22-yard beauty of pass for a touchdown from Sauser to Schinmann to give Modesto Christian a 24-14 lead with 3:29 left in the half.
Sauser saw his running back running over the middle and threw to the 6-foot running back, who went up in the air and grabbed it before falling into the end zone.
“I saw the safety roll over so I just took it inside and Hayden threw and amazing pass and I just had to have some concentration and I was able to come down with it,” Schinmann said.
Parsons called Sauser “a leader” after the game and said he has made a lot of those types of plays this year.
The Crusaders didn’t score in the sercond half and although Sharp had a s6-yard rushing touchdown in the third, Hilmar had a big empty possession when they were stopped on fourth-and-1 from Crusaders’ 8-yard line with 4:41 left in the quarter.
Sharp finished with 18 carries for 107 yards and a touchdown and also had two receptions for 66 yards and a score. Senior running back Justin Rentfro had the other score, a 1-yard touchdown run and finished with 117 rushing yards.
After nine grueling weeks, the Crusaders have a bye next week before ending the season at home against Ripon.
Parsons said the team will get some much-needed rest and a couple of players who have been out due to eligibility are expected to return.
“What a good week to have a bye and get healthy and get ready for Ripon,” Parsons said.