At the outset of the season, Pierce head coach Anthony Tapia thought the 2022 Bears had the potential to be one of the best teams he’s coached in his five-year tenure at the helm of the program.
And although injuries have plagued Pierce this season, Tapia’s hunch may prove to be correct as the Bears posted a convincing 35-14 victory over top-ranked East Nicolaus on the road to punch their ticket to the Northern Section CIF Division IV championship for the third time in four years.
While Pierce had suffered a 36-14 loss to the Spartans on Oct. 21, it was a completely different story last Friday night.
Finding themselves down 0-6 early in the second quarter, the Bears put together a scoring drive in response that contained what Tapia called the “play of the game” as Drew Burnum connected with Rudy Tapia to put the ball just outside the red zone.
“It was a pass into double coverage,” said Coach Tapia. “We were third and 12 from about our own 40, and if Rudy doesn’t make that play, we have to punt. Then it’s a whole different ball game.”
From there, Pierce scored on a six-yard touchdown run by Manuel Lopez that sent the Bears into the locker room clinging to a 7-6 lead.
However, a wild third quarter would be where Pierce broke the game open, starting with its initial possession of the second half.
As they have been prone to do, the Spartans went with an onside attempt on the kickoff, but a recovery by Joseph Saavedra gave the Bears the ball at their own 46 and set up another significant play, this time as Sebastian Ambriz broke free for a 54-yard touchdown run.
Things got a little crazy from there, as Pierce recovered an East Nic fumble only to go nowhere and have the Spartans block the subsequent punt.
With the Spartans backed up near their own goal line, Luke Myers forced another fumble that was recovered by teammate Alonzo Orozco in the end zone for the Bears second score of the period.
While the Spartans responded with a safety to start the final quarter, Pierce added two more touchdowns to its total, a 13-yard Lopez run and a 64-yard scoop and score from Daniel Bustamante.
Although East Nicolaus did get a late touchdown, it was too little too late.
Lopez led the offensive effort rushing for 119 yards on 21 carries, while Roberto Ramirez had what Tapia described as his “best game of the season” to spearhead the defense logging 14 tackles, three for losses, a sack, and a fumble recovery.
Also turning in noteworthy performances were linebackers Saavedra and Myers, who accounted for five tackles and a forced fumble apiece.
With the win, Pierce (7-5) returned to the title game Wednesday night, hoping that the third time would be the charm when the Bears traveled to Colusa to take on the rival RedHawks in an all-Colusa County final round.
Results of the NSCIF championship game were not available by the Pioneer Review print deadline.■