Justin Cash couldn't stop posing for pictures, mostly because the throng of Frontier fans on their field after the game wouldn't let him.
And why not soak in the moment?
Cash, not even a starter at the beginning of the season, had just ran roughshod over Stockdale in Frontier's 42-21 victory Friday night that gave the host Titans at least a share of the Southwest Yosemite League championship in what amounted to a league title game.
Frontier (6-3, 4-0 SWYL) can clinch the title outright with a win next week at Independence. If Cash runs anything like he did this week -- 31 carries, 234 yards, four touchdowns -- that won't be a problem.
And here's the real twist: Cash isn't even Frontier's regular running back. That would be Triton Douglas, but when three Titans starters found themselves suspended Thursday evening (a Kern High School District source said the suspension is related to alcohol or tobacco possession, meaning it will last nine weeks), Cash had to step into the spotlight.
"It was a big opportunity to carry the load," he said. "You can't focus on what you lost. You can only focus on the future, and that's what we did."
The game was tied 14-14 at halftime, but the game changed on the next play. Titans senior Tyler Kempka dribbled a picture-perfect onside kick exactly 10 yards before he fell on it well before any Stockdale players could get there.
“That,” Frontier coach Rich Cornford said, “was a huge play for us.”
The Titans didn’t score on the ensuing possession, but Kempka’s punt was downed at the 2-yard line.
Stockdale (5-4, 3-1) couldn’t get a first down and punted from its 5, with Frontier taking over at the Stockdale 36. Two plays later, Cash danced his way to a 30-yard touchdown.
On Frontier’s next possession, Cash gained 17 yards early in the drive and then finished it with another twisting 25-yard scamper. Later in the second half he gained 51 yards on two plays to set up a short Evan Moore quarterback sneak for a touchdown, and Cash ended the scoring with a 12-yard scamper.
“Justin Cash is an awfully good player,” Cornford said. “I feel real bad for the kids who couldn’t be here, but he really took an opportunity and ran with it. He’s a home run hitter. He just has that ability to take the ball the distance, and that’s a threat the defense has to deal with.”
Stockdale has its own home run threat in D.J. Martin, who had 182 yards and a touchdown, but the Mustangs were stung by turnovers. None was costlier than a second-quarter fumbled handoff that Frontier senior Augie Alcantar took 53 yards the other way for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead.
“We just can’t turn the ball over; that’s the bottom line,” Snow said. “The games we’ve lost, we’ve turned it over too many times. When you do that and you don’t tackle well, it’s hard to beat anybody in Division I.”
Still, Stockdale pulled even on Adarius Rowel’s 5-yard touchdown run before halftime and cut the lead to 28-21 on Martin’s 3-yard touchdown early in the fourth. But they couldn’t stop Cash and the offensive line, which also was short-handed after suspensions: But the starting five of Alcantar, Ivan Kosareff, Gabe Valov, Mitchell Rocha and Josh Stretz — three of whom also play full-time on defense — never let up.
“Without my line, I couldn’t do any of this,” Cash said. “We focused on the fundamentals: Keep pounding the ball, and stop D.J. Martin. He’s the key to their offense, one of the best running backs in the league.”
Cash then smiled and turned around, another photo opportunity beckoning. On this night, the Titans were picture perfect.
“I think it shows we’re at the level where we can play with elite teams in the state,” Cornford said. “You look at our schedule, the games we’ve played, teams we’ve lost to and beaten. We’re right in there.”