With an 11-game losing streak, Foothill needed something special in the final minutes against Arvin on Friday night.
What it found was a Trojan horse, in the form of Bryan “Pony” Diaz.
The senior fullback, nicknamed Pony because of his signature ponytail, scored on a short run, and then followed that up with a two-point conversion to lift Foothill to a dramatic 14-13 victory over the Bears at Highland High.
“I tell you what, it’s just a monkey off our backs,” said second-year head coach Brandon Deckard of his first varsity win at Foothill after an 0-10 season last season and a 56-6 loss to Kennedy in the season opener last week. “And to get the first win in the fashion that we did was just a great feeling.”
Trailing 13-6 heading into the fourth quarter, the Trojans marched down the field on the strength of sophomore running back Kaelan Deloney, taking nearly eight minutes off the clock.
The drive setup Diaz’s heroics, following 6-foot-1, 290-pound left tackle Corey Morgan into the end zone on back-to-back plays to set the stage for an even more thrilling finish.
“He wasn’t going to be denied on that one,” Deckard said. “That was a huge, huge thing.
"I told them both, everyone in the stands knows where we’re running the ball. Arvin know where we’re going to run the ball, and right now you guys just have to man up. And they both did. Corey kept driving and Pony followed him and got it in. It was an awesome moment. It really was.”
Unfortunately, there was still four minutes left in the game, more than enough for Arvin to mount a comeback.
The Bears did just that, moving the ball to the Trojans’ 28-yard-line with less than a minute to play on the strength of several big plays and a few Foothill miscues, most notably a fourth-down pass interference penalty.
But after an incomplete pass on first down, senior Evan Gallegos stepped in front of an Arvin pass with 38 seconds left to preserve the Trojans’ victory.
“He deserves a lot of credit,” Deckard said. “He put a ton of time in the weight room over the off season. He works hard every day, and for him to get that pick to win the game … he deserved it. It was a tremendous thing. Not only am I happy for him, I’m happy for the entire team that we pulled that off. That was just a great experience for all the players.”
The victory was just the seventh victory for Foothill since a 6-6 season in 2012. The Trojans were 6-52 during that six-year stretch heading into this season and hadn’t won since a 28-27 victory over Mira Monte on the final game of the 2017 season — Foothill’s only win that year.
“It was crazy, the cheerleaders, the people in the stands, the coaching staff, the administration … I mean this is a long time coming,” Deckard said. “I told the kids before the game, that (we’ve won six games in the last six years), so to get a win is a big deal and to beat a quality team like Arvin, who had a winning season last year and is a good-coached football team (is big).
“It just means everything to the school. It means everything to the staff and the kids, and it’s just a huge deal for us. There were kids crying on the sideline … when you put that much work in, it means a lot more when it actually pays off. Everyone was pretty excited and you couldn’t ask for anything else.”
There were also plenty of theatrics at East High on Friday — for the second week in a row — only this time the Blades fell a little short in a 26-23 loss to West.
The Vikings (1-1) built a 19-point lead entering the fourth quarter, but needed a few defensive stops down the stretch to hold on.
“Letting them back in was a sign of our inexperience, but we grew up as far as staying together that’s for sure,” West head coach Derrick Dunham said. “I don’t have any stats in front of me, but I’m pretty sure East outgained us. We got a couple of turnovers from them in the first half and we didn’t turn the ball over. In the second half we kind of reversed that. But we tried to grind the clock out in the second half and East High’s passing game came alive. We had to hold on, it really was a hold-on game.”
The Vikings led 13-7 at the half following two touchdown passes from senior Danny Zuniga, who was making his first varsity start.
Zuniga hooked up with sophomore Daylon Leach on a 40-yard scoring pass and then threw to senior Khaiden Dearmore for a short TD in the first half.
West began to open things up in the third quarter when senior Damion Brown sprinted 85 yards up the sideline on the second-half kickoff for a touchdown, and later scored on a 35-yard draw play to give the Vikings a 26-7 advantage.
“Up 26-7 with just one quarter to play, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves,” Dunham said.
The Blades (1-1), who defeated Golden Valley on a late field goal last week, responded with a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter, and appeared headed for the go-ahead score with just under two minutes to play.
With East at the West 5-yard-line, Dunham called timeout. The following play Dearmore recovered a fumble, but West was unable to move the ball on the next three plays and was forced to punt. Backed up to their own end zone, Dunham elected to take a safety instead, and took a free kick from the 20.
A poor kick gave the Blades new life, still in West territory. But with six seconds left, Ellijah Munoz intercepted an East pass at the 10-yard line, enabling the Vikings to hold on.
“We executed well offensively and defensively that first half,” Dunham said. “I’m just really proud of the kids because after last week at Mission Oak (a 28-7 loss) we just didn’t gel together. We knew were young, and the combination of a lot of sophomores, and not having a junior varsity team (hurt us). But we really gelled last night. Even the guys on the sidelines were really pulling for each other. So we saw a lot of growth.”
Other Friday night games:
Kennedy 62, Mira Monte 0: Francisco Medina rushed for 179 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Thunderbirds. Kennedy (2-0) had two different players throw touchdown passes and out-gained the Lions 496 to 70. The Thunderbirds piled up 407 yards rushing, with Jesus Nuno, Antonio Meza and Leo Garcia adding scoring runs. Steve Lucas threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to Loreto Beltran, and Jose Cota connected with Ricky Solorio on a 20-yard scoring pass. Solorio added 71 yards rushing on nine carries, and Anthony Ontiveros picked up a fumble forced by Pedro Garcia and rumbled 60 yards for a TD. Shamar Oliver had a team-high 54 yards on 16 carries for Mira Monte (0-2).
California City 8, Taft 6: The difference in the game was a Ravens’ safety. Both teams missed extra points. Bryce Veach had a team-high 47 yards rushing on 10 carries and Coletin Hamblin scored the lone touchdown for the Wildcats (1-1), who had just 157 yards in total offense.
Santa Maria-St. Joseph 17, Garces 0: Devin Guggia rushed for 142 yards and had two interceptions for the Knights (2-0) as the Rams (0-2) turned the ball over six times. Garces’ Dom D’Amato filled in at quarterback for Joseph Campbell, who is recovering from Valley fever. He threw for 61 yards, and also had his third interception of the season as a safety on defense.