The Hilmar players started exchanging hugs on the sideline as the final minutes ticked down on the clock. Many had tears trickling down their faces.
There was a surge of emotion as the Yellowjackets put an exclamation point on their run to their first state title with a 49-0 win over Strathmore in the CIF State Division 6-AA championship on Saturday night at McSweeney Field.
Players and coaches were excited and happy as they celebrated a goal that seemed unreachable when off-season workouts started back in January.
But there was also unexpected sadness, especially for the seniors. Winning a state championship meant their magical run was over. There’s no game to get ready for next week.
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“Everything is over now,” said senior Justin Rentfro, who rushed for 133 yards on 11 carries. “This is everything I’ve known for the past couple years. I know there’s more things to come, but it’s hard to let this go. This has been my world.”
It took Rentfro a good 10 or 15 minutes before he was ready to talk to family and friends after the game. After taking one final team picture, Rentfro sat by himself on the grass with his head in his knees, overcome with emotion.
“That kid put his heart and soul into this season,” said Hilmar coach Frank Marques. “What a way to go out.”
You couldn’t have asked for a better script for Hilmar to win its first state championship.
The Yellowjackets (13-2) spoiled Strathmore’s bid for back-to-back state championships.
The Yellowjackets had been waiting for over a year to get another shot at the Spartans (13-2) after letting a 12-point lead slip away in the final 8 minutes last year before losing 53-52 in double overtime.
“That 53-52 score has been written on our whiteboard all year,” said senior Brennan Mason, who recorded two sacks against the Spartans. “The fact that we got to play that team again in the state championship game is unreal.”
Isaac Sharp ignited the onslaught with two first-quarter touchdowns, scoring on runs of 6 and 12 yards to give the Yellowjackets a 14-0 lead with 1:33 left in the first quarter.
Sharp scored three touchdowns and finished with 83 yards on 15 carries. He combined with Rentfro for 216 yards on the ground.
“What weapons those two guys are, it’s just amazing,” Marques said. “I’m really proud of our offensive line. They’ve done a great job for us.”
Hilmar quarterback Treven Crowley added three touchdown passes, including two scoring strikes to senior Bryan Millan of 20 and 58 yards in the second quarter to extend the Hilmar lead to 28-0.
The Yellowjackets outgained Strathmore 267 yards to 60 in the first half. It didn’t help that the Spartans lost their top offensive weapon in running back Alonso Acevedo to a possible concussion on Strathmore’s third drive when he collided with Rentfro. Acevedo had rushed for 1,799 yards and 33 touchdowns this season.
The second half served as a coronation for the new state champs as Hilmar built a 42-0 lead by the end of the third quarter. The fourth quarter was played with a running clock.
Hilmar steamrolled its last three opponents, outscoring Ripon Christian, East Nicolaus and Strathmore by a combined score of 154-28.
“I think we were outclassed,” said Strathmore coach Jeromy Blackwell. “They were bigger, faster and stronger than us. You could tell that team took the weight room seriously during the off-season.”
Strathmore players were dealing with their own emotions. It’s a program that isn’t used to losing after compiling a 43-3 record the last three seasons.
Rentfro was already looking toward the future and the great story he’ll be able to share with his kids one day.
“I think the thing I’ll remember most is being a state champion,” he said. “It’s a story I can tell my kids, about playing three years of varsity. Coming up as a sophomore and playing with my brothers and going 9-2. Losing to this team as a junior and then coming back and getting redemption my senior year. It’s a phenomenal ending.”