It was a scene more fitting of a Disney movie: The final drive in “Remember the Titans,” or maybe closer to home, the climactic race in “McFarland, USA.”
Probably not as dramatic or worthy of the big screen, but East High’s last-second, 10-9 victory over Golden Valley on Friday night, featuring the lasting vision of the Blades players celebrating at the 20-yard line will be no less memorable for their first-year head coach Kasey Tittlemier.
“That was a very exciting moment for us,” said Tittlemier, referring to junior kicker Jose Chavez’s game-winning, 22-yard field goal as time expired. “We had a dogpile near where the kick took place. And so it was an exciting moment. Not too many first-year head coaches can say that they won in that kind of style in their first game as a varsity head coach. It’s something I’ll remember forever for sure.”
So as they say in the movies, let’s set the stage.
Trailing 9-7 with three minutes to play, the Blades turned the ball over on downs after failing on a fourth-down pass play along the sidelines near the first-down marker that was ruled incomplete. The East sidelines complained, but to no avail.
Now all Golden Valley had to do is get a first down —or maybe two — and the Bulldogs could run out the clock and snap a 10-game losing streak and give first-year coach James Cain his inaugural victory.
That’s when the plot took a turn.
The East defense forced the Bulldogs to punt after a three-and-out and took over possession at its own 34 with a little over a minute to play.
On first down, East quarterback Willie Ball hit Keyshawn Nelson on a fade route, bringing the ball to the Golden Valley 30-yard line. A personal foul on the Bulldogs for helmet-to-helmet contact moved the ball to the 15 with just 12 seconds to play.
With one timeout remaining, Tittlemier decided to take one shot at the end zone. But when protection broke down, Ball dumped the ball off to Jackson Phillips, who danced his way dangerously close to the final tick on the clock before being tackled at the 6-yard line.
In fact, Golden Valley began to celebrate thinking they had won as the clock showed 0:00. The Bulldogs’ last victory was a 28-27 victory over East on Nov. 3, 2017.
But after a short conference, the officials recognized that Tittlemier had called timeout and put two seconds back on the clock.
Chavez did the rest.
And the storyline gets thicker. Phillip's father, Jackson Phillips Sr., is the defensive coordinator at Golden Valley for Cain, who was an assistant at East the last several years.
“We wanted to run one more play,” Tittlemier said. “I wasn’t really banking on the field goal. I was trying to score. But (Phillips) was running around so much I was like ‘oh man, you better go down before that time runs out.’ Luckily he went down with about 4 or 5 seconds left and I was able to get the timeout in time. That was a tough-fought game for sure. It’s nice to get the first one.”
First-year Centennial Richard Starrett had a similar experience, albeit with a lot less drama.
The Golden Hawks shook off a slow start and rolled to a 42-6 victory over North in Starrett’s head coaching debut.
“We came out excited, probably a little over-excited,” Starrett said. “We didn’t really execute well early in the game. But our defense really picked us up and they played big time.
“Offensively we started to figure some things out in the second quarter and we were able to move the ball, and kind of get to where we felt comfortable, and then about the middle of the third quarter we really started to do some things that I expected us to do early in the game.”
After leading 15-0 at the half, the Golden Hawks began to pull away with a big third quarter, ignited by a 97-yard kickoff return for a score by Morgan Dutton.
Max Richey led the way with 122 yards and three touchdowns on 12 of 18 passing, including a 24-yard scoring pass to Elijah Finney that was set up by a Keenan Sullivan interception.
“I told those kids after the game, that I’ll remember this game for the rest of my life,” said Starrett, who was an assistant coach the past eight seasons in Waco and Katy, Texas. “Those 52 kids we have on that football team are always going to be special to me. Whether this is a one-season thing or 25-season thing, I’ll always remember this first one that’s for sure.”
Ridgeview and Wasco also posted big wins, and at the same time showcased a balanced attack that should make them difficult to beat this season.
The Wolf Pack got things going in the third quarter in a 44-21 victory over Stockdale. Trailing 14-9 late in the first half, Ridgeview scored 35 straight points, ignited by an impressive air attack by senior quarterback Justin Hinzo, and a big interception returned for a score by Justin Spainhoward.
Hinzo threw for 303 yards and four touchdowns, including two to Shawn Allen, on 11 for 19 passing, and ran for another. Mekhi Deans and Marquise Casteel also caught touchdown passes, and Fabien Guillen kicked two field goals for Ridgeview.
“We figured we’d be pretty balanced, but we do a lot of RPO stuff, which means we take what they give us,” said first-year Ridgeview head coach Rich Cornford. “The deep ball was there last night. Hinzo has a really strong arm. He left a few on the table. We had some open receivers that he missed, but overall we were able to get guys vertical. It’s tough to play us because of the number of weapons that we have that can go vertical on people.”
Wasco, one of the favorites to win the South Sequoia League this year, dominated in virtually every area in a 45-0 victory over Tehachapi.
Christian Alvarez and Rodrick Scott combined for 334 yards rushing and four touchdowns for the Tigers, who also picked off four passes — two by Jacob Villanueva — and Kevin Chavez had 12 tackles and two forced fumbles, returning one for a score. Wasco even recovered two onside kicks.
“Our running game was good and we took some shots down the field,” said second-year Wasco coach Chad Martinez. “We were getting vertical as far as throwing the ball, as well. Everything was going according to plan.
“It means a lot (to get that first win). It’s the start of a marathon. One thing I’ve been telling the boys is start fast and finish strong. It’s a huge win for the program and we were excited to get it.”
Even in defeat, Bakersfield High had a memorable start to the Michael Stewart era.
Although he was quick to point out he doesn’t believe in moral victories, the first-year coach was pleased with his team’s performance in a 29-14 loss at Calabasas, the No. 11 ranked team in the state, according to CalHi Sports.
“I don’t want to say we had (Calabasas) shook or surprised, I mean it wasn’t a surprise for us (how well the Drillers played),” said Stewart, whose team trailed 22-0 at the half. “But at the end of the day you’re knocking on the door and you have a turnover and you pick up a big punt return and fumble. Or we have a guy pinned down and you let a guy get around the edge and run for 30 or 40 yards, when we had him stopped on third down. Things like that can swing momentum both ways.
“But I just love how our guys came out after halftime when it was 22-0, and I think everybody thought it was about to be a rout, and we came out and scored and had another chance to make it 22-14 early in the third quarter. We were literally one or two possessions away from maybe having an opportunity to put it in the win column.”
Taft 24, Kern Valley 22: Junior running back Chad Berry rushed for 212 yards on 28 carries, including a 36-yard touchdown to lead the Wildcats. Sophomore Bryce Veach ran for 66 yards — 44 coming on a scoring run — as Taft tallied 441 rushing yards.
South 7, Independence 6: An early touchdown plunge by quarterback Manny Guzman was the difference as the Rebels held on in a sloppy game, marred by multiple penalties and turnovers, according to South coach Cary Mills. The Falcons took an early 6-0 lead on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Xavier Ramirez to TraVale Shorter.
Ventura-St. Bonaventure 38, Frontier 13: Titans quarterback Travis Plugge threw for 133 yards and a touchdown to Jayden Smith on 10 for 20 passing in a road loss to the Seraphs at Ventura College. Smith finished with four catches for 97 yards. Jacob Mounmanivong and Kaden Hernandez combined for 90 yards rushing for Frontier, and Riley Hernandez scored on a 1-yard run.
Highland 21, Arvin 6: Shabazz Muhammad had 196 yards and two touchdowns on five catches, and also returned a kickoff 85 yards for a score, made five tackles and intercepted a pass to lead the Scots. Highland’s Nick Salas was 4 for 6 passing for 123 yards and two TDs and rushed for 79 yards, and AJ Cleveland passed for 99 yards. Brandon Gathrite had five tackles and assisted in a sack, and Dominic Rountree had six tackles and a forced fumble for the Scots.
Bakersfield Christian 22, Garces 0
Calabasas 29, Bakersfield 14
Centennial 42, North 6
Chavez 12, Delano 7
East 10, Golden Valley 9
Highland 21, Arvin 6
Kennedy 56, Foothill 6
Liberty 24, Paso Robles 0
McFarland 57, Avenal 0
Ridgeview 44, Stockdale 21
Shafter 37, Mira Monte 22
South 7, Independence 6
Taft 24, Kern Valley 22
Ventura-St. Bonaventure 38, Frontier 13
Wasco 45, Tehachapi 0