Through four games this season, the Mira Monte football team has had no trouble getting started.
It’s finishing that has been the problem.
The Lions built first-half leads in three of their first four games, only to see things fall apart in the second half.
“We haven’t been doing a real good job finishing out ballgames and drives,” said second-year Mira Monte coach Christian Johnson, whose team led Arvin 26-14 at the half last week only to watch the Bears rally for a 39-33 overtime victory. “We told our kids we have to figure it out.”
That advice was especially important when the Lions found themselves in a similar position Friday night when the Lions led Kern Valley 32-14 entering the fourth quarter.
On cue, the Broncs scored 15 points in the final six minutes to pull within three points, only this time Mira Monte had enough to hold on for a 32-29 victory, its first of the season.
“It didn’t look very good defensively for us in that fourth quarter,” said Johnson, whose team led Shafter 14-6 at the end of the first quarter before losing 37-22 in their season opener. “We made it a lot closer than I think it needed to be. But my kids found a way to finish and we ended up winning. That’s all we needed to do to get over that hump, I think.”
The Lions (1-3) biggest trouble had been scoring in the second half. Mira Monte was outscored 52-7 in the second half in its first three games. The only points came on a 15-yard interception return for a score by Alfredo Reyes.
That drought came to an end on the Lions’ first possession of the second half Friday night, when Shamar Oliver capped an 8-play, 70-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to give Mira Monte a 26-7 lead.
It was a part of a big night for Oliver, who finished with 305 yards and three touchdowns rushing on 34 carries. He closed out the first half with a 75-yard scoring run with 36 seconds left in the second quarter set up by a Bronc fumble.
“He loves to handle the load,” said Johnson, whose team took the lead for good late in the second quarter when Dominic Brown made a highlight-reel catch on a fade route from Adrian Mercado for a 14-yard score. Following a two-point conversion, Mira Monte led 14-7. “(Oliver) wants the ball in his hands and never complains about being tired or anything like that. He wants to do whatever is going to put the team in the best position to win.”
After the Lions built their 19-point cushion, the two teams exchanged touchdowns over the next 10 minutes, setting up a frenetic fourth quarter engineered by Broncs quarterback Kaden Preston.
The junior quarterback had 397 yards and two touchdowns on 21 of 44 passing, and added 154 yards and another TD rushing on eight carries.
With Kern Valley (1-3) trailing 32-14, Preston broke off a 80-yard run, setting up a 1-yard plunge by Vincent Pearman to trim the lead to 32-21 with 5:25 to play. Preston also had a 57-yard run to set up a third-quarter touchdown early in the third quarter.
“I think (the Arvin game) definitely crossed through everybody’s minds in the beginning because we felt like we had such a dominating performance up to that point and then we took a 6-minute stretch of football off,” said Johnson. “I could tell our kids were definitely starting to think that way. I even took a timeout and talking to the whole team about, we’re winning and we just gotta finish this thing out.
“And they got it. I think it’s just hard, I mean they’ve suffered some really tough losses this year. I had one kid ask me earlier this week if I thought we were cursed. We just needed to come out and finish four quarters and we were able to do that.”
Mira Monte responded by driving to the Broncs’ 30 before giving up the ball on a failed fourth-and-one play.
Kern Valley moved the ball into Lions territory, setting up a 41-yard touchdown pass from Preston to Davin Lee. Preston then ran in the two-point conversion to close the deficit to three points with less than a minute to play.
But Mira Monte recovered a desperation onside kick and ran out the clock to clinch the victory.
“We just made plays down the stretch,” Johnson said. “That was the big thing. Our defense, although it played bad at times, at times it played really well and forced some turnovers. We had a good pass rush and were able to get pressure on them.”
Johnson was particularly impressive with the play of junior cornerback Sebastian Marbaugh, who was assigned the responsibility of defending Kern Valley’s top receiver. Senior defensive end Anthony Chacon and outside linebacker Jose Pelayo were able to get consistent pressure on Preston all night, Johnson said.
“It’s huge (to get this win),” Johnson said. “We just needed to get a win and get over that hump. I think our kids just needed something positive for them because they’ve been playing really hard, we just couldn’t figure out a way to win. I think that now we know how to win we can start building off of it.”
FOOTHILL 31, DELANO 28
Sergio Davila kicked a 37-yard field goal to lift the Trojans (3-2) to a dramatic victory over the Tigers (0-4). Kaelan Deloney had 162 yards and a touchdown rushing on 17 carries to lead an impressive Foothill ground attack. Tyson Reynolds and Jeffrey Cuevas had 72 and 52 yards rushing, respectively, and Bryan “Pony” Diaz scored two touchdowns.
EAST 26, PORTERVILLE-MONACHE 21
The Blades utilized four long scoring plays and had key interceptions by Andrew Perez and Andrew Almazon to post a road victory. Nate Martinez had a 75-yard scoring run and Charles Davis ran 40 yards for a touchdown to lead East (4-1). Keyshawn Nelson and Mike Rodriguez scored on two pass plays of more than 60 yards.
CLOVIS NORTH 41, RIDGEVIEW 27
The Broncos (5-0) shook off a scrappy Wolf Pack squad, which was playing without starting quarterback Justin Hinzo (shoulder injury) and his backup, Anthony Ramirez (head injury), for the final three quarters. Before leaving the game on the final play of the first quarter, Ramirez was 6 of 9 passing for 89 yards and a touchdown, and also had 55 yards rushing and a score to help Ridgeview (2-3) to a 13-0 lead. Clovis North scored the next 27 points before the Wolf Pack responded with two touchdowns to tie the game heading into the fourth quarter. Zion Hall had 13 catches for 87 yards and a touchdown, and Alijah Alexander-Williams added three catches for 87 yards to lead Ridgeview.
FRONTIER 43, INDEPENDENCE 14
Izzy Chaverria threw for 236 yards and four touchdowns on 9 of 14 passing to lead the Titans (3-2) past the Falcons (0-5). Jaydon Hudson had two scoring receptions and finished with 132 yards receiving on four catches. Jayden Smith also had a scoring catch and finished with 60 yards receiving, and Jacob Stephens added a 16-yard TD reception. Meyer Simmons led the Frontier defense with four sacks and five quarterback hurries, and Ian Zepeda had an interception.
NORTH 33, WEST 20
Waltravon Lenoir had three interceptions, giving the 6-foot-3 senior safety seven for the season, to help the Stars (4-1) win their fourth straight. He also blocked a punt. Alex Tejeda rushed for 100 yards and three touchdowns, Brian Dean had 60 yards and a score on the ground and quarterback Titus Leist finished with 50 yards rushing on six carries. He also was 7 of 10 passing for 120 yards and a score. Alex Ruvalcuba had three catches for 70 yards and a TD. Defensively, Alejandro Marquez had three sacks and 10 tackles, and two-way lineman Gary Harris and defensive tackle Anthony Nguyen also made key contributions, according to North coach Norm Brown. The Vikings dropped to 1-3.
GARCES 63, TEHACHAPI 0
Paul Golla got his first win as Rams head coach, and in impressive fashion. Jalen Smith rushed for 123 yards and four touchdowns on eight carries, and also had a 25-yard reception that set up another to lead Garces (1-3), which score three times in the final three minutes of the first half. Rams quarterback Joseph Campbell was 16 of 22 passing for 177 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for a 15-yard score. Zach Buckey had two sacks to lead the Rams’ defense, which scored two touchdowns on fumble recoveries and another on an interception return. It was the worst varsity loss ever for the Warriors (0-5), who committed seven turnovers.