Friday, August 19, 2022

Coaches Corner: Scott Burnum

In 2020 with COVID protocols forcing high school sports to go dark, the Pioneer Review embarked on a series entitled “Coaches Corner” featuring the recollections of longtime county coaches about their most memorable teams with the goal being to reflect on the athletic past.

Now during this summer’s lull, we have returned to the same coaches, this time inquiring about the most memorable games they have coached in, asking them to narrow it down to one or two. 

While not everyone chose to participate, once again the goal is to generate conversation about a few classic moments in the varied and colorful history of Colusa County sports.

It is impossible to mention every detail of each contest or all the individuals who participated. If statistics are included they were taken from MaxPreps, not from the coach’s remembrances.

With that said, no matter which team you pull for, please enjoy the stroll down memory lane.

The Pierce Bear football team went 11-1 in 2012 after falling 3-0 to Willows in the semifinal round of the NSCIF playoffs.

In sports, it goes without saying that no one enjoys losing. However on those occasions when a setback occurs, how a team responds is truly what’s important.

Still, for coaches, some losses sting more than others because of a haunting feeling that despite no lack of effort on the part of the team, it had instead somehow been wronged during the process. 

Understanding that situation perhaps better than anyone is this week’s subject of Coaches Corner 2022, Pierce’s Scott Burnum.

Generally recognized as one of the Northern Section’s best coaches, the fiery Burnum was always a believer in respecting the game by playing it the right way. 

Thus, it comes as no surprise that despite his 165 wins on the basketball court and 30 more on the football field, it’s two narrow losses that rank at the top of his most memorable games.

Taking over the Bear football program in 2010, it didn’t take Burnum long to get Pierce on track, as two years later his squad was unbeaten going into the Northern Section Division III playoffs semifinal round.

To get there, and claim the 2012 Sacramento Valley League title as well, Pierce needed some last second heroics and got them when quarterback Nate Smith connected with receiver Jesus Huerta on an 82-yard scoring play that lifted the Bears over Willows by a score of 14-7.

With the win, Pierce drew Durham in the first round of the playoffs and came away with a 37-12 victory behind a big game from Andy Corona who rushed for 153 yards and two touchdowns, setting up a rematch against the very tough Willows squad in the semifinals.

“People forget how good Willows was back in the day,” Burnum said. “That year they had the Candelaria brothers;  stud defensive lineman who were sprinters and throwers in track.”

To Burnum’s point, senior Trevor Candelaria, ultimately received both All-State Division III and All-Northern Section nods before going on to play at Butte College and Southern Oregon University.

Yet, the Bears had an exceptional defense of their own holding the Honkers in check, forcing five punts and yielding 119 yards to keep the score 0-0 at the end of regulation.

In the ensuing overtime period, the Bears got the ball first and believed they had scored the game winner on a fourth and goal play however the referees didn’t see it that way, determining the ball did not break the plane.

After taking possession, Willows was then able to move into field goal range and ultimately kick the game winner, ending Pierce’s bid for an undefeated season and a section championship.

Although it was a gut-wrenching loss, Burnum will always remember what an exceptional group they were.

“Guys were just devastated, every one of them bawling. They were a true team,” said Burnum. “Great men, leaders of the school and the last of a generation.”

Leading the Bears’ defensive effort was Preston Smith who finished the night with 11 tackles, while Joe Howard collected 10.

Corona had another noteworthy effort carrying 28 times for 152 yards.

For his second most memorable game, which also came down to a field goal, Burnum recalled what is arguably the most controversial ending to a contest ever in Colusa County in which the visiting Bears lost in the final seconds to rival Colusa despite initially thwarting the RedHawks’ bid to win it.

With Pierce leading 13-12 and four seconds left on the clock, Colusa lined up for a potential game-winning 51-yard field goal, only to have the kick blocked.

As the ball remained on the turf, the Bears, responding to what they believed to be a whistle signaling the end of the play thought the game was over.

Yet, that apparently was not the case as Colusa’s Martin Bravo scooped it up and raced to the end zone as time expired for what was ruled a touchdown.

Burnum and the Pierce coaching staff argued that the whistle had blown and that an unsportsmanlike penalty on Colusa was incorrectly assessed as a dead ball foul, but it was to no avail.

Pierce went on to file an appeal with the Board of the Northern California Officials Association, introducing some compelling game footage and a photo of the referee with his arm raised and approaching the ball, but once again the Bears were denied, as the NCOA said there had been “no misapplication or misinterpretation of any rule.”

It was something to this day that Burnum has little stomach for, feeling that his team was wrongly handed a defeat.

The Bears ended the 2013 season 6-5 overall, and certainly were left with a bad taste in their mouth.

Next week Coaches Corner visits with Colusa baseball coach Eric Lay about his most memorable games.

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