There was one guarantee going into the SYL opener for winless Independence and Tehachapi — there would be a winner Friday night.
The rest would be a bonus.
The Falcons stunned the Warriors 23-22 at Independence High after Isaiah Jones found Zarek Williams in the back corner of the end zone for a 34-yard game-tying touchdown as time expired. The extra point by Emiliano Rodriguez proved to be the difference.
“We put out tallest guys out there, our biggest playmakers and sent them down the field,” said Independence head coach Tyler Schilhabel. “Williams has been our biggest playmaker all year, came up and made the biggest play of the season so far.”
After a Jake Tye 3-yard touchdown run with 21 seconds left put Tehachapi up 6, it seemed likely that the Warriors would be returning to the mountain with a dramatic win in their pockets, especially after driving downfield 86 yards within the last four minutes.
“We showed a lot of character and heart tonight,” said Tehachapi head coach Doug DeGeer. “Our issue all year has been a lack of consistency and that was something we focused on and we improved on that immensely. They made one more play than us at the end and that’s sometimes the way it goes.”
Tehachapi (0-6, 0-1) opened the game doing something they are not well known for — passing the ball. But the Tye-to-Trent Adams connection proved fruitful for the Warriors all night. Adams finished with 12 receptions for 139 yards, catching everything thrown his way in his return from an injury a couple weeks ago.
“We’re just so happy to have him back healthy,” said DeGeer. “He’s a great kid and works hard. He did what he was supposed to do. He was open quite a bit and we got him the ball.”
The Warriors opened the scoring on a 6-yard TD pass from Tye to Tyler O’Brien. The Warriors would tack on a safety from Antonio Garcia and would hang onto an 8-0 lead for most of the first half.
That was when Independence (1-5, 1-0) finally started clicking offensively. Jones, who struggled in most of the first half, found Angel Flores for a 13-yard TD pass.
Controversy then struck as Zach King’s kickoff return was fumbled and recovered by the Falcons. King appeared to be down, but he wasn’t ruled as such, giving Independence an extra chance going into the half, which ended up being a 37-yard field goal.
Both teams would put the scorekeepers to work often. The Warriors regained the lead 15-10 after a King 5-yard TD run.
A Tye pass would then be picked off for a score by Alejandro Romero Jr., but it was negated by a block in the back penalty, a common theme for the Falcons in the second half.
“We have to stop with the penalties and dumb plays,” said Schilhabel. “We shot ourselves in the foot. Tehachapi played their butts off but we didn't help ourselves for a large part of the game so we have to clean up our game.”
It would seem that the Falcons had destiny on their side. Despite having that play and another potential touchdown called back due to penalty, Jones found Justin Coley on a 22-yard TD pass on a fourth-and-18 throw that was tipped twice, once by a Warrior defender and once by a Falcon receiver. The ball then fell into the arms of Coley, which was the wildest play of the night up to that point.
Tehachapi would then drive the ball 86 yards to set up Tye’s go-ahead TD, up until the last-second heroics from Independence.
“We set them straight and told them we have to do things a better way,” said Schilhabel. “They understood that and began to clean things up. All season long through the losses, these guys stuck together and never counted themselves out.”
The shocking finish left the home sideline celebrating and jumping for joy and left the visitor’s side stunned silent.
“It’s tough. It’s one of those punches in the gut,” said DeGeer. “It’s heart wrenching. However, so many of the things we’ve struggled with we did well with tonight. It was a big step forward. It didn’t end how we wanted it to end but there’s a lot of positives to take away from it.”