SHAFTER — Some nights the ball just doesn’t bounce a team’s way.
And in the case of Shafter High School, Friday certainly wasn’t its night in a 35-23 defeat to Firebaugh. The loss came on the Generals’ homefield, in the Central Section Division V football semifinals.
No. 2-seed Shafter finished the season with a 9-3 record, while No. 3 Firebaugh is 10-2 and will play for a section championship next weekend.
Right from the get-go, Shafter seemed to be fighting uphill.
Firebaugh jumped out to a 21-0 lead under six minutes into the contest on the strength of three long, fortuitous touchdown passes.
On the game’s first possession, quarterback Jeshua Gutierrez hit Tylor Palmer for a 60-yard TD to put the Eagles ahead 7-0. On the play, it looked as if Gutierrez underthrew his wide receiver, but Palmer pulled it down despite being covered by two Shafter defensive backs, and raced in from 30 yards out.
The next possession saw Gutierrez hit Fernando Campa for a 62-yard scoring strike when Shafter’s defensive back fell down in coverage.
And then, after Firebaugh recovered an onside kick, Gutierrez eluded the pass rush, avoided a near sack, and fired downfield to Andrew Rodriguez for a 56-yard score.
“Back-yard football stuff,” said Shafter head coach Jerald Pierucci in describing the three early scoring plays.
While Shafter faced a sizeable hole right out the chute, the Generals still had plenty of time left and opportunities in the offing.
The team settled on three close-range field goals on the evening from Marco Rodriguez — a 27-yarder, a 22-yarder and a 24-yarder. While those plays cut into the deficit, touchdowns would have made more sizeable impacts.
Toward the end of the half — and with the Generals inside the Firebaugh 10-yard line — an animated Pierucci stormed the field and picked up a personal foul penalty as officials were slow to pick up his timeout call in the closing minute. The penalty, however, pushed the Generals out to about the 20-yard line, and was followed by an interception thrown by quarterback Alex Aguilar.
Aguilar, who has been an absolute standout this season, never seemed to hit his stride in the contest completing just 9 of 34 passes for 145 yards and two interceptions. Firebaugh’s defense also bottled him up on the ground, at least by his lofty standards (24 carries, 97 yards).
The quarterback was also without arguably his top target in sophomore Jackson Sanchez (injured in last week’s quarterfinal). Center Juan Terraza exited Friday’s game in the second half with a left leg injury.
“That’s the frustrating thing about it,” Pierucci said. “To lose a game like this knowing that you played the best game you had is one thing. But to leave a lot of opportunities out on the field, I think that’s the most frustrating thing. The score wasn’t indicative of what we can do. If you’re going to lose, you want to play your best on your last game of the year, and we just didn’t do it.”
Looking back on the season, it was a standout campaign for the Generals. The team will also return Aguilar to the mix next year, along with running back Emilio Villagran and a collection of targets in the passing game.
“The future is bright here,” Pierucci said. “The seniors we’re losing, there’s a lot of big shoes to fill. Now it’s on these guys to not make this a fluke, and to make this something that we do every year.”