Sunday, November 28, 2021

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Pierce downs Colusa, advances to semifinals 

Colusa defenders Nick Price (left) and Juan Arreguin (right) try to bring down Pierce’s Manuel Lopez (center) in the NSCIF D4 playoff game on Nov. 12. Lopez ran for 176 and three touchdowns in the win.

A thick blanket of fog covering Gregg LeMaster Field in Arbuckle last Friday night did nothing to slow down the Pierce Bears, as they cut through the mist – and the Colusa RedHawks – en route to a 42-0 victory that advances them to the second round of the Northern Section CIF Division IV playoffs.

Coming into the contest, the No. 2 seeded Bears had relied heavily on the ground game, and it served them well in the murky conditions, as they rolled up 346 yards on 37 carries against their county rivals, the No. 7 RedHawks.

It is a formula that Pierce head coach Anthony Tapia and his staff has successfully employed all season, and was something he thought would continue to work in the dense haze.

“With the moisture, we wanted to keep it simple and just keep pounding,” Tapia said. “It’s what we’re built for.  I thought the weather conditions would favor us, which it did, and the bottom line is that you have to run the ball if you want to win in the playoffs.” 

Tapia’s reasoning was correct, and his team set the tone from the outset, starting the game with a pooch kick that, in the dim visibility, was recovered by the Bears at the RedHawk 38.

Following a penalty on the second play from scrimmage, Pierce capitalized when junior Manuel Lopez took the hand off and ran it in for a 28-yard touchdown.

It was the first of three touchdowns within the span of seven minutes for Lopez, who also scored on runs of three and five yards to put the Bears on top 21-0 before the first quarter had expired.

Running behind his stout line, the junior fullback concluded the night with 176 yards on 23 carries, despite not taking a hand off in the final quarter of play.  

In the second quarter, Colusa looked as though it might have a chance to get back in the game, when the RedHawks embarked on an 11-play drive that took them to the Bear six-yard line.

Yet, the combination of the Bear defense, and missed opportunities by the RedHawks, saw the drive stall there.

Making matters worse for Colusa, Pierce responded with a 94-yard drive that chewed up the clock and culminated with an Iain Kalfsbeek five-yard dash into the end zone, with less than a minute left in the second quarter, to extend the Bear advantage to 27-0.

Pierce scored twice more after intermission, first in the third period on a one-yard burst by Daniel Gonzalez, and then for the last time in the games’ final two minutes, when Bryce Murphy snuck through the line to score from 24 yards out.

While the Bears dominated the line of scrimmage to power the offense, credit also goes to the defense for stifling the RedHawk attack at every juncture, holding them to under 200 yards of total offense.

Tristan Flores had a standout performance, recording seven tackles, a sack, and fumble recovery, while Brandon Saavedra was a disruptive force in the Colusa backfield, tallying six tackles including two sacks. 

Luke Myers turned in a big play, intercepting a pass, as did Roberto Martinez, who pitched in with a sack for an eight-yard loss.

Overall, while it wasn’t perfect, Tapia was satisfied with his squad’s effort, saying, “Our goal was to not make mistakes tonight, and while we made a few, this is what we wanted to see, for our guys to stick with it and play hard.”

On the other hand, it was a disappointing night for the RedHawks, who have struggled in the trenches and, for the second week in a row, failed to score.

Playing in their last game for Colusa, Emanuel Frias completed nine passes for 119 yards, while Nick Price caught three balls for 51 yards, and Juan Arreguin had an interception for the defense.

Nonetheless, with a group of battled tested juniors and athletic sophomores returning next year, the RedHawks should have an opportunity to contend in the SVL and into the postseason as well.

As for the 8-3 Bears, who retain home field advantage in the second round, Friday night pits them against a revitalized No. 7 seed East Nicolaus (4-6) that edged 7-6 in an SVL match up on Oct. 1.

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