It seemed like Independence was always just one play away.
Maybe it’d be a 48-yard touchdown pass from Zecheriah Castellon to Malik Delouth. Or even a 44 yarder between the two that would break the game wide open in the Falcons’ favor.
Those did happen, but both were called back on penalties to the good fortune of the visiting Fresno Warriors. And in the end, it was Fresno that made the plays that counted. No. 13 Fresno scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns and defeated No. 4 Independence, 26-22, at Independence in the first round of the Central Section Division III playoffs.
“Drives stopped on penalties,” Independence head coach Lucas Lucero said. “That’s part of the game. You got to go with the flow sometimes. It’s just something you have to deal with.”
The Warriors 6-5 (3-2 North Yosemite) will advance to face No. 5 Tehachapi in the second round.
The Falcons (4-1 South Yosemite) won a school-record seven games this season but couldn’t pull off the team’s first playoff win since 2013.
Independence’s Ramon Henderson caught five passes for 128 yards and a touchdown but it wasn’t enough to combat Fresno’s star player and quarterback: John L’Heureux II.
“We played good but not good enough,” Henderson said.
L’Heureux II ran for a game-high 129 yards and threw for two scores. It’s was a 24-yard double move that he connected with Glen Phason on with 10 minutes left that gave Fresno a 20-15 lead.
“When you have athletes at quarterback, it could be a broken play and you do the schemes that you need to do but … all it takes is one little crease and he’s gone,” Lucero said.
Fresno running back Josh Simpson, who didn’t get a carry in the first half, exploded for the decisive 39-yard running score with 3:42 left in the game.
Zecheriah Castellon started the game for Independence but he couldn’t connect on four of his last five passes. Sergio Borreli took over for Independence and found David Hernandez for a 9-yard score with 2 1/2minutes left, but Independence never got the ball back.
“I think it’ just a stepping stone where we’re at right now,” Lucero said of the season. “Really young team. Excited for the future, just devastated for the present right now.”
Coming into the game, Fresno had suffered double-digit losses to all of the playoff teams it faced this year. The Warriors’ five wins had come against teams that went a combined 6-36.