A packed house at McCarl Field in Williams was treated to one of the most competitive Rice Bowls in recent history, as the Pierce Bears claimed the 22-14 victory in the 92nd annual event, having gained control in the second quarter and holding off the Yellowjackets the rest of the way.
Despite the spirited crowd in attendance, the game got off to a solemn start, as the two teams gathered at mid-field to witness a poignant ceremony in which the No. 32 jersey worn by former ‘Jacket great Lewis Davalos was retired.
Davalos, who passed away earlier this summer, was remembered for his competitive spirit and love of the game, which was a fitting tribute ahead of arguably the county’s greatest football rivalry.
And at the outset, the ‘Jackets seemed to channel Davalos’s fortitude as they stopped the Bears cold on Pierce’s initial possession, then on the ensuing drive, went on to score the game’s first touchdown.
Starting at midfield, Williams got rolling when quarterback Adrian Solis connected with receiver Miguel Villanueva, taking the ball to the Bear 35.
Although a penalty pushed the ‘Jackets back to the 40 on the very next play, running back Jose Campos took the handoff from Solis, broke to the outside, and raced to the end zone for a touchdown.
Solis followed up by converting the two-point try, and things looked promising for the Yellowjackets, who now held an 8-0 advantage.
However, as the opening quarter came to an end, the Bears were starting to generate momentum and embarked on a 14-play drive, lasting nearly seven minutes, in which they hammered away at the Williams defense, led by the section’s leading rusher Manuel Lopez.
Lopez carried 11 times on the drive, and, with 6:32 left before halftime, powered his way into the end zone from three yards out.
Following a two-point conversion by Rudy Tapia, the game was knotted at eight, although the Yellowjackets appeared to have the answer, marching 50 yards to the Pierce 21.
Yet, after a penalty left them in a fourth and long situation, the Bears’ Erick Montanez extinguished the threat by breaking up the pass attempt and giving the ball back to his offense, with approximately two minutes remaining in the half.
It was enough time for Pierce to get inside ‘Jacket territory, after runs by Lopez and David
Aguirre put the Bears in good position at the 35, with 34 seconds left.
From there, the situation played out perfectly, as Bears quarterback Drew Burnum found receiver Sebastian Ambriz, one of the fastest men in the Northern Section, who made the catch and sprinted 35 yards for the touchdown.
In retrospect, it was the play that turned the tide of the game in Pierce’s favor.
Following halftime, however, neither team made much headway, trading turnovers throughout the third quarter, although failing to capitalize.
Yet, in the fourth quarter, the Bears gave themselves some breathing room, again surprising the ‘Jackets with a pass.
This time, Burnum connected with Rudy Tapia, who outran the defenders to put six more points on the board, to give Pierce a comfortable 14 point advantage.
While the ‘Jackets didn’t quit, their attempt to rally didn’t go far, as the Pierce defense rose to the occasion again, when Eduardo Cuellar picked off Solis with seven minutes left to play.
But it wouldn’t take long for the Williams offense to get back on the field, as Johnathan Gutierrez returned the favor by intercepting a Burnum pass at midfield.
Nonetheless, the ‘Jackets could not take advantage of the opportunity, something that has plagued them in all three of their contests this season, as they have lost by an average of seven points.
Still, Williams did convert on the game’s final play, when Campos crossed the goal line scoring from 10-yards away.
With the win, Pierce holds a 55-32 advantage over Williams in the rivalry game, which has also ended five times in a draw.
After the game, Pierce coach Anthony Tapia, still undefeated in the Rice Bowl during his tenure, admitted he was somewhat uneasy coming into the game, knowing that his team still had some wrinkles to iron out, but in the end liked the way his team leaders stepped up.
“I watched the film on Williams, and they play hard, so I was a little nervous because of how well they have stopped the run,” Tapia said. “But Drew and Sebastian are starting to figure it out, and our linebackers, especially Joey (Saavedra) and Luke (Myers) responded well to us challenging them this week.”
Although little came easy in the run game, Lopez had another good night, carrying 23 times for 110 yards, and Aguirre was effective as well, rushing for 61 yards on seven carries.
Yet, it was the pass that proved to be the difference, with Burnum throwing for 159 yards and two touchdowns on the night.
Leading the Bears’ defensive effort was Roberto Ramirez, who made a team high eight tackles, along with Luke Myers, who logged five tackles and three sacks.
On the other side of the field, Williams coach Jeff Lemus appreciated his team’s effort, but was disappointed by the fact that, for the third week in a row, they struggled to score.
“We played hard and created more turnovers than we had in the previous two weeks,” Lemus explained. “But we need to clean up the mistakes and find a way to score. I guess it’s the price you pay when you play a tough preseason schedule though.”
That being said, there were plenty of bright spots for the ‘Jackets, starting with the offense where Solis ran 17 times for 114 yards, and Campos added another 81 yards on his eight carries.
Defensively for the ‘Jackets, Johnny Alcaraz made a game high 11 tackles to go along with two sacks, Izael Velazquez tailed 10 tackles, and Gutierrez pitched in with eight.
Kaled Correa also made a big play, picking off a Pierce pass in the end zone.
This week, the Bears (1-2) face an unknown opponent in Piedmont, while Williams looks for their first win of the season when the ‘Jackets make the short trip east on Highway 20 to play another county rival in Colusa. ■