The Renegades jumped out to a 42 -14 lead early in the 3rd, but Roadrunners QB Brent Rausch led COD back to within a Touchdown in the middle of the 4th. After taking the big lead, the Renegades rested many of their starters, and Rausch did a great job of finding his receivers after getting excellent pass protection from his O linemen. If there was any doubt that Desert was deserving of a playoff spot it was certainly quelled by a heroic effort by the Runners to get back in the game. A final drive by Bakersfield behind the strong running of Bruce Frieson (Photo above; credit: Tim Murphy)resulted in a field goal to give the Renegades a 10 point margin, and LB Darren Mackey sealed the victory with an interception on Desert's last possession.
The Renegades came out strong mixing runs with passes and mighty mite receiver Brandon Banks was one shoelace tackle away from breaking a 60 yard TD. Bruce Frieson ran Bakersfield all the way down to the goal line where QB Jacob Bower punched it in on a sneak to give the Gades a quick 7-0 lead. The two teams exchanged punts and Rausch hit the Runners own mighty mite receiver, Keiton Mayes, on a big 4th down play, and then Mayes picked up 17 more yards on an end around to set up Undre Sails 4 yard run to tie the game at 7-7.
A couple of penalties kept the Renegades going, and Bower found Banks on a deep out on a 4th and 1 at the COD 28 to give the Renegades a 14-7 lead. The Runners were keeping pace with the #1 Gades behind Rausch' strong arm, and a strong performance by his offensive line. Sails then punched in another short run to knot the game again at 14-14. On BC's next possesion, Frieson swept right down the sideline and somehow managed to avoid two tackles on his way to a 70 yard score to make the score 21-14. But the Renegades have been having a lot of special teams problems late in the season, and gave up a huge return all the way down to the Renegade 17 before Ben Estill could corall the runner. Rausch hit his favorite target, Edgard Theliard, to get to the 5, but Bakersfield dodged a bullet when they forced a fumble and recovered it at the 11 yard line. The Bower to Banks connection got the Gades deep into Runner territory, but a little celebrating pushed them back 15 yards. Frieson eventually pushed it in to make the halftime score 28-14.
Early in the second half, the Renegades turned up the heat when Banks scored on a fade to make it 35-14. Then Gade DB Ryan Ibarra picked off a Rausch pass to give BC the ball back at around the 25. Bower went back to pass and made a deft sidestep of a Dre Ersery blitz, and threw a deep post to speed demon Attrail Snipes for a 69 yard strike, and it appeared the route was on at 42-14 early in the third. Or was it? Gade Coach Jeff Chudy figured it was time to rest some of his starters, and keep the injury bug in check that has hampered them through most of the second half of the season. But just as last week, in the WSC Championship game against Canyons, bad tackling and special teams play led to a hard charge by the Roadrunners who were not going to go silently into the night.
The Gade strategy of trying to run the clock out with reserve running backs was not panning out. Rausch led the team down field again, and hit Theliard on an 8 yard score to make it 42-21. Rausch came right back and threw another TD pass to make it 42-28. The Gades could not pick up a first down, and were forced to punt again. Just as they did against Canyons, the Bakersfield defense started to look tired down the stretch, and Queston Clemens scored again to cut the lead to 42-35 with over six minutes to play. Suddenly, you could feel the 9,000 Gade fans squirming in their seats, wondering why BC was having a hard time keeping their foot on opponent's necks late in the game.
In came the Bakersfield starters, and they rode on Frieson's back all the way down to the 14 yard line where the State's most consistent kicker, Arturo Villa, booted it throught the uprights to give the Gades a two score cushion. The Renegades sealed the victory when a Rausch pass was batted in the air by Ibarra, and picked off by Mackey. The Gades ran the clock and survived the Runner rally, to take a hard earned 1st round victory, 45-35.
Anyone who has seen Desert play will confirm that they were indeed worthy of making the playoffs. Their opponents may not have had good overall records on their way to a 9-1 season, but does that really matter when they are putting up huge numbers on them?Coach Dean Dowty did a tremendous job in the biggest turnaround season in the nation. The Runners went from a 1-9 team, to a 9-2 record and a 10 point Bowl loss to the number one rated team in the state. Dowty was extremely pleased to get the bid to the Golden Empire Bowl. Before the game Dowty said, "Our kids are very excited about playing in the Best Bowl game in the country. This will be the most exciting thing most of these kids are ever lucky enough to be a part of. " The returning sophomores also had much to do with it, along with a few new assistant coaches, as they bought into Dowty's grueling summer workout schedule. "I am not surprised about the turn around, maybe being 9-1 but not about having a winning season. I have one of the best groups of dedicated coaches in the country. My guys work their tails off for almost nothing. We made a decision to get rid of any players that didn’t want to make the commitment in the off season, and I was lucky enough to pick up a few new coaches and it really made the difference. " Those 115 degree summer workouts proved their worth in the second half. The Rausch to Theliard connection was huge, and the offensive line of the Runners did a tremendous job against one of juco balls best front lines. Rausch ended up the Offensive Player of the Game. He was 25/39 for 287 yards. Theilard caught 10 of the passes for 154 yards.
For the Renegades, Coach Jeff Chudy was happy with the win, but is still scratching his head about missed assignments, missed tackles, and poor special teams play. "We played well defensively for a while, then for whatever reason, the wheels came off the track. So we have to figure that out, but you gotta give Desert all the credit, they didn't give up down 42-14. " The Renegades gave up an amazing 212 yards on punt returns, putting their defense on the spot on many occasions. Chudy was also impressed with the Roadrunner's discipline and sportsmanship and made that point adamant in the post game award ceremony. The Renegades missed DE Aaron King and power back Pat Patterson due to injury, but Bruce Frieson carried the load well gaining 194 yards on 26 carries and two scores. Frieson easily could have been the offensive or MVP Award winner, but that MVP went to Brandon Banks who had 9 catches for 154 yards. Attrail Snipes once again proved that when you concentrate on Banks, he will slip by you for a long score as he had two catches for 95 yards and 2 TDs. Linebacker Darren Mackey was the games defensive MVP.
Congratulations to Clifford and Bradford Insurance for putting on another great Golden Empire Bowl. Wes Bradford is picking up the ball in honor of his father Bud, who was a Shriner heavily involved in the now defunct Potato Bowl. Each participant was given a nice letterman's jacket to commemorate the event, and the crowd was treated to a military jet flyover during the national anthem, which brought a lump to the throats of the 9,000 plus in attendance, and reminded us all that we may be opponents on the field, bu we are all Americans who are happy to have the opportunity to enjoy such events. The Army Black Dagger Parachute team also thrilled the crowd with a halftime display of their skills. And congratulations to the Renegade faithful, who once again showed that they are the biggest supporters of Juco football in California. There will most likely be another 10,000 fans to support their Renegades next week in a possible rematch with league rival Canyons.