The Runners found another gear in the second half of the State Center Bowl in a grueling contest that had great plays, good hits, and dramatic catches. Ratekin threw for 279 yards and two TDs demonstrating why he is the highest rated passer in California with his laser guided, pin point accuracy. When Ratekin wasn't throwing, Butte handed the pill off to both Alex Green and Alex Courtney who kept the Tigers honest against the pass combining for 151 yards.
The start of the game seemed to indicate that an offensive slugfest was in order. But both defenses adjust quickly to the other teams offensive strategy, and long drives resulted in no points. Ratekin wasted no time in showing off that arm when he found wideout Justin Hilton deep on the right sideline for 43 yards down to the 13 yard line. But the Tigers D held them to a field goal and the Roadrunners drew first blood with a 29 yarder after only a little over two minutes of play.
Reedley then came out like there was no stopping them using both passes and runs to methodically plow their way down field. QB Zach McRea, (231 yards), ended up bootlegging to the right side and stretched the ball over the pylon to give the Tigers a 7-3 lead with 9:45 to go in the first. After both teams had three and out punts, Butte got themselves out of a deep hole when Ratekin found a receiver over the middle who almost busted it for six had he not been tripped up by midfield. It was tight end Matt Carter's turn and he latched on to a 21 yarder and Butte was in business again, but on a 4th and 6, the Tigers held and took possession of the ball.
Reedley was picking their way down field again, but heavy hitting LB Tyree Dixon stepped in front of a McRea pass and picked it off. Back to back passes to Joshua Bellamy and Angel Quial got them down to the 5 yard line, and then Ratekin play actioned over the middle to Carter giving them a 10-7 lead. Butte's D held the Tigers on 3rd down but a late hit kept the Reedley drive alive. Eventually they had to punt. On that punt, returner Lametrius Davis alternately looked at the flight of the ball and the oncoming tacklers, trying to determine whether he could return it. He called fair catch very late, and ended up muffing the punt and the Tigers took over at the Butte 3 yard line. Johnson took it in from their and Reedley regained the lead, 14-10. Both defenses then clamped down and that is how the half ended.
To start the second half, the Tigers looked like a well oiled machine again as they drove all the way down to the 10. A bungled snap had them attempt a field goal, but that kick was wide and after a 7 minute time consuming drive, they came up empty. That miss would come back to haunt them. Ratekin hit Green on a little screen and he avoided two tacklers and cruised down the sideline 42 yards to the Tiger 38. Two Ratekin throws later and Butte took the lead, 17-14.
In the 4th quarter Butte missed a field goal, but seemed to put it away when Courtney cut back up the middle with 9:06 to go, and the Runners smelled victory with a 24-14 lead. DB Bobby Burns seemed to put the final nail in the coffin when he picked off a pass, but the Runners were guilty of defensive holding that kept the Tiger drive alive. Reedley starting calling slants to wideouts Teandre Brown and John Gadson successfully, but stalled and Butte took over. You could see the anticipation mounting on the Runner sideline. But Butte ran out of steam when Roberto Davis sacked Ratekin, and the Tigers got the ball with 4:22 to go. McRae then found Brown on a deep sideline pass when Preston Pace stumbled on a one on coverage, and rambled 88 yards for the score narrowing the gap to 24-21. The comeback Tigers were at it again. But they would never get the ball back and Butte prevailed setting up a showdown with who ever emerges from the South for the state title at Orange Coast City College on December 13th.
The Reedley Tigers started out the season slowly, but after changing QBs and going to a no huddle pistol offense, they earned their way to the NorCal final with a surge from the middle of the season on. Coach Michael White told his kids he was very proud of them. "There's nothing to be embarrassed about, you proved you were a great team." After starting out the season at 4-3, their new slogan for unity was "Hold the rope." As they entered the field before the game, they were all lined up and yes, each had a grasp on a long rope to remind them of how far they had come. Losing Kenny Paolielli in the first half changed their running success quite a bit, and the Butte D clamped down on the run which led to a harder pass rush.
For Butte coach Jeff Jordan it was a moment of satisfaction. He told his kids that it was a great effort, and that the preserverance they showed goes all the way back to the sophomore leadership in spring practice. He was extremely proud of this group of kids. "With all the great teams and great alumni we have had, this will be the first time we've made it to the dance." QB Ryan Ratekin gave credit to his O Line not only for this game, but the entire season."They're amazing, this isn't the first game that they showed they can dominate in the trenches, and that was the key to victory all season long." That front line consisted of Danny Watkins, John Brinkman, Randall Huff, and the biggest center I've ever seen, Etuale Feo, who is 6'5 and goes 385 lbs! Ratekin also has two big targets in Carter and Hillman who both go 6'4 and are matchup problems. Ratekin had confidence in his team mates despite the fact that they were down at halftime. "We we had to get our running game going in the second half, and we knew what was in front of us, so we just went out and took it."
The Roadrunners now get to rest up while the SoCal tourney goes on. They are a very balanced team and both Courtney and Green are not necessarily game changers, but are more than capable of keeping pass rushers honest. They have a solid kicking game, and on defense the SoCal rep better watch out for LB Tyree Dixon, who is only about the size of Ronnie Lott, but also hits like him. December 13, they will take that team balance to Costa Mesa and try to finish the season unbeaten and win the State Title and possibly a JC Grid-Wire national title as well. We should be in store for another barn burning final.