It was the seldom thrown to Damron who made a last second catch against El Camino in the second game of the season to pull out a win, and once again the affable kid, who's family has been deeply involved in Gade football for 50 years, made a clutch catch to ice the victory in a hard fought battle, 48-45. The game was a see saw battle that produced over 1000 yards of offense in front of a raucous crowd of 10,000 fans. Heroes were plentiful on both sides of the ball, and in the first OT, after the Gades scored a TD and a PAT, the Cougars came right back to score, and were set to go for a two point conversion. An illegal substitution was called, so the Cougars would have to kick for a tie. But they had moved the ball to the right hash before the penalty, setting up an awkward angle for the kick. The kick sailed over the right upright to tie the game, setting up the second OT dramatics.
The Renegades came out swinging and tried to stretch a quick Cougar defense with a post play to Brandon Banks, and it was successful for a 43 yard gain. Another screen to Banks pushed the Gades further up the field, then Bower found the speedster in the endzone for a quick 7-0 lead after only 2 minutes and 12 seconds had elapsed. But Canyons responded immediately mixing Fred Winborn runs with Bradford McClellan passes and Winborn eventually pushing it in to knot the game at 7-7.
Bakersfield stormed right back downfield as Reserve Renegade TE Zach Lewis surprised the Cougar secondary running a pattern across the grain, and was wide open in the corner of the endzone to give the Gades a 14-7 lead. Both defenses held on the next possessions and that was the score at the end of the first.
Early in the second, BC's consistent kicker Arturo Villa, hooked a 41 yard field attempt and the Cougars marched right down the field. Winborn took a pass in the flat at the Gade 7 yard line to knot the score once again at 14-14. The Cougar D stiffened, and McClellan moved his team down field quickly with passes to Jovonne Augustus over the middle and Hayo Carpenter in the flat. In fact, the Renegade secondary seemed content to give up the flat passes all day long. A face mask on a sack by Aaron King gave Canyons a 1st and goal at the BC 8, and two runs later the Cougars had the lead, 21-14. Renegade fans have not seen their team down at halftime all season long, and that caused some stress in the stands. But a quick strike on a post play from Bowers to speedster Attrail Snipes gained 43 yards to the 32 of Canyons. The ball was a little underthrown, and that gave DB Tyler Robey time to recover and knock Snipes down. Bowers was having success in pumping off the Safety on long post throws. He then found Dashan Miller, who has missed 2/3s of the season due to a broken elbow, for a 14 yard TD that tied the game at halftime, 21-21.
In the beginning of the second half, it seemed that both defenses had adjusted well, and the game's pace would settle down. The McClellan to Carpenter flat pass came through again on a 3rd down to keep a drive going. But DE Aaron King sacked the elusive McClellan and Cougar punter Ken Shigley, who had an outstanding game, pinned the Gades back at their own 7 yard line. Reserve RB Ben Estill pounded his way out of the hole, but the Cougar D stiffened up. The Renegades could not come through on a 4th and 5, but the Gades got the ball right back on a Cougar trap play fumble near midfield. Once again the Canyon D came through, forcing a punt. The Renegades would have had COC pinned, but the punt returner was interfered with. On a 4th and 2 at the Gade 40, Winborn took and inside handoff, then bounced outside to take it all the way to the house and a 28-21 Canyons lead.
On the next possession, Damron made a clutch catch when he momentarily lost the handle on a pass, but corralled it just before hitting the ground to keep a drive alive. Marcus Udell almost crushed the Renegade's hopes when he dropped an interception. Banks felt like he was pushed off the ball, so he had no sympathy for Udell's drop. It was one of many plays that turned momentum back and forth in this game. Bowers then found Snipes in the flat for six, and once again the game was even at 28-28.
A nice return by Rafael Reynolds, and a face mask penalty tacked on, gave the Cougars great field position near midfield. On a 3rd and six on the Bakersfield 38, McClellan play actioned a deep pass to the endzone, and the Cougar receiver came down with it despite 2 Renegades covering him. The BC defensive backs pled their case that they were pushed off on to deaf ears, and the Cougars really put the pressure on Bakersfield taking a 35-28 lead. A BC drive was thwarted by a holding penalty, and they had to give COC the ball back. The Gades held, but the fans were squirming with a little over 3 minutes to play, down by 7, and a long 85 yards of grass to cover to tie it up. On a 4th and 4, with the whole season on the line, Bowers found Freshman Greg Williams over the middle for a big 1st down. On another 3rd down, Bowers found Dashan Miller on an out for another 1st down at the Cougar 14 with 1:05 to go in regulation. Bruce Frieson ran a rare Renegade draw for six, and the 4th quarter ended befittingly at 35-35.
The Cougars won the toss in overtime, and elected to have the Gades go first. Bruce Frieson was running as hard as he has all season, and scored again to give the Renegades a 7 point lead in OT. But now it was the Cougars turn. Much to the chagrin of Gade fans, BC was penalized for holding on a pass thrown over everyone's head and into the track. That setup another Winborn TD, and the Cougars were going to try to catch the Gades off guard by going for 2 instead of tying the game. Renegade Head Coach Jeff Chudy called timeout, and the Cougars elected to place the ball on the right hash mark. That placement almost cost them when they were called for an illegal substitution, and they could not move the ball back to the middle of the field for the ensuing extra point kick. That kick was about 4 inches away from being wide, and the game went into it's second overtime tied at 42-42.
This time it was the Cougars who had to go first. Winborn picked up 9 yards immediately. But he was stuffed on the next play for no gain. On a 3rd and 1, BC's defense stuffed the run again for a 4 yard loss, and Canyons settled for a 37 yard field goal to take the lead, 45-42. The Renegades mangaged to get the ball near the goal, and on a 2nd and 1 at the six, it was the perfect opportunity for a play action pass, and Damron came down with the winning Touchdown to eke out a hard earned 48-45 playoff victory to send them to the Socal finals.
Everytime these two teams get together, incredible football is played, and this game was the most incredible of all. Neither team was going to lay down, and their offenses are so prolific that a lead is never safe. After the game Chudy praised both team's effort. "They are a great football team, they play hard, they are well coached, and they play smart. " When asked about Bowers performance, Chudy said he didn't care what his stats were (5 TDs and almost 400 yards), it was the clutch plays that he will remember most. He also gave props to his doctors and trainers, who have patched up many Gade injuries this season, and they were going to have to have everybody against the talented Cougars. Coming into the game, I knew the return of Dashan Miller would be huge, as it proved to be. Much credit must also be given to the return of Aaron King who put a lot of pressure on McClellan in the 2nd half. Renegade fan favorite, reserve RB Ben Estill did a tremendous job of moving the ball in the 3rd quarter. There were many heroes in this game. It was only appropriate for Damron to get the winning touchdown. His father, a former coach and player, as well as his legendary grandfather, Duane Damron, were honored before the game. Duane Damron spent 42 years coaching the Renegade line, and past on many, many opportunities to coach on the D-1 level because of his love for Bakersfield.
A tremendous job by new Head Coach Garett Tujague. He had some big shoes to fill after taking over for Chuck Lyon, who has gone over to the AD position. These two coaches are very different in their approach. Lyon was a task master who did not suffer bad play gladly. Tujague is more of a player's coach who always seems to be positive in his approach. Obviously both methods are effective. Not enough can be said about Brad McClellan. This is by far the best 3rd string QB you'll ever see. He was 18/25 for 220 yards, most of it going to Hayo Carpenter. Winborn ended up with about 160 yards rushing. I'll say it right now, this Cougar team will be the frontrunner to win it all next season. They return virtually everybody in their lineup. If anyone goes unbeaten next season, it will be them, even with a tougher schedule in the new realignment.
Congratulations to both teams, and congratulations to the Mount SAC Mounties who have earned a trip to Bakersfield in what promises to be another great show in Memorial Stadium. Mountie fans come early, because there could be 12,000 plus fans in attendance.