A time-honored Colusa County tradition kicked off last Friday night at Gregg LeMaster Field in Arbuckle as the Pierce Bears hosted the Williams Yellowjackets in the 91st rendition of the Rice Bowl.
Despite expectations for a close game, the final result favored the Bears in a 34-6 triumph.
At the outset, however, Williams looked as though they would give Pierce all it could handle when on the fourth play of the game, quarterback Omar Lomeli found receiver Miguel Rivera, who took the ball 60 yards to the house for the game’s first points.
Although the play may have stunned the hometown fans, it came as no surprise to Pierce head coach Anthony Tapia, who said, “They’ve got some really talented players at the skill positions and a lot of potential to make plays like that.”
The ‘Jacket defense also played a strong first quarter, holding the Bears in check and keeping them off the board, but the tide was about to change in rapid fashion.
Starting the second period on its own 39, Pierce was facing a fourth down near midfield and had been unable to get anything going until junior Manuel Lopez broke free for a 34-yard gain, which decisively changed the momentum in the game.
Five plays later Lopez made his way into the end zone from 13 yards out to tie the game at 6-6, but the Bears were only getting started, as they would score three times within the next two minutes.
After holding Williams to a three and out, Pierce followed up with a six-play, 62-yard drive featuring heavy doses of Lopez and ending in Iain Kalfsbeek’s 10-yard touchdown run that gave the Bears their first lead at 14-6 after they converted the two-point try.
Then on the ‘Jackets’ ensuing possession, Pierce safety Bryce Murphy made a good read on the ball and picked off the pass, giving the ball back to the Bears at the Williams’ 35 yard line.
Murphy, also the Bears quarterback, wasted little time capitalizing on the turnover when, three plays later, he hit receiver Ryan Travis, who made a leaping grab in the end zone, to tack on another six points and extend the lead to 20-6.
Less than 20 seconds later, it was déjà vu for the Yellowjackets, as Murphy made his second interception of the night, this time returning the ball just inside the red zone.
After a ‘Jacket penalty moved the ball to the five, Lopez once again powered his way in for the score with just 23 seconds remaining in the half.
Kayden Davis then added on the two-point conversion increasing the Bears’ advantage to 28-6 and leaving Williams wondering what had happened.
Yet, the Bears weren’t quite done, as they made a definite statement on the first possession of the second half, punctuating their dominance on the night with a methodical 10 play, 72-yard drive that took seven minutes off the clock and culminated with Murphy finding Daniel Gonzalez from 16 yards away for the score.
It was a solid performance for Murphy, who Tapia described as being “locked in,” as the senior had the two interceptions, in addition to tossing a pair of touchdown passes.
Also posting impressive numbers was Lopez, who shouldered the load offensively, carrying 22 times for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
While the ‘Jackets held the Bear running game in check early on, Tapia credited his offensive line for the team’s turnaround, as they rolled up 270 yards on the ground.
“It took a couple drives for our o-line to make adjustments, but once they did, the holes started opening up and we were off to the races,” said the fourth-year head coach, who is undefeated in the Rice Bowl since taking the reins in 2018.
For the Yellowjackets, it was a stinging loss, especially given the way the game started. But once again, an inability to mount a consistent ground attack, coupled with mental mistakes that resulted in 10 penalties, proved insurmountable.
“It’s frustrating,” said Williams coach Jeff Lemus, “We have some great playmakers, but we do something good, then take two steps backward. The bottom line is though we have got to be able to run the ball.”
Although Lomeli finished the game with 117 all purpose yards to lead the ‘Jacket offense, defensively, Williams got gritty efforts from three players, including Lorenzo Ruvalcaba, Michael Cervantes, and Oscar Mendoza.
Ruvalcaba made a game-high 18 tackles, while Cervantes and Mendoza recorded 12 and 11 tackles respectively.
With the Rice Bowl behind them, both teams have tough tasks this week as the Bears (2-1) travel north to take on an always formidable Fall River squad while the Yellowjackets (0-2) return home to face unbeaten Colusa.■