Denair clinched no worse than second place in the Southern League and moved one step closer to the No. 1 seed in the upcoming playoffs with Friday’s narrow 14-13 victory over Mariposa at Jack Lytton Stadium.
The Coyotes overcame three fumbles, one of which set up Mariposa late in the fourth quarter with a final chance to win the game. A 29-yard field goal try was wide with 40 seconds to play after Denair took time out to ice the kicker.
The game had more drama earlier in the fourth quarter when Denair dodged a two-point conversion attempt after Mariposa scored to get within 14-13. The Grizzlies lined up in a trick formation in an effort to confuse the Coyote defense, but a botched snap doomed the play and Denair retained the lead.
“It was about as close as it could get,” said Denair Coach Anthony Armas of the final outcome.
The victory left Denair (7-2 overall, 5-1 in the SL) alone in second place with one regular-season game to go and the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over Mariposa (5-4, 4-2).
With presumptive SL champion Ripon Christian (8-1, 6-0) – which defeated Denair earlier – required to move up to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI playoffs, Denair has a clear path to the No. 1 seed in Division VII with a win this week over Waterford.
“If we get healthy, we’ll be fine,” said Armas, whose team played without its two starting tackles against Mariposa and lost do-everything running back Dylan De Silva to an ankle injury early in the third quarter.
Even without De Silva, the Coyotes continued to pound away on the ground against Mariposa. Damien Peral and Jorge Yanez picked up the slack and each scored a touchdown.
Yanez’s 4-yard run capped an 80-yard drive to open the second half and gave Denair a 14-7 lead.
Peral’s 6-yard scamper capped a wild sequence late in the first half. Denair was poised to score with less than minute left in the second quarter, but was stopped on fourth down deep in Mariposa territory. The Grizzlies – leading 7-0 – surprised the Coyotes with a hook-and-lateral play that appeared to go for a long touchdown. But the officials ruled the ball had been lateraled forward and wiped out the score.
On the next play, Mariposa fumbled inside the 10-yard line and Denair recovered with 11 seconds to go in the half. Peral’s TD then tied the game at halftime – a 14-point swing in just a few seconds.
“That was a big deal,” Armas admitted.
Denair was its own worst enemy at points during the game, losing two of its three fumbles and getting stopped on downs. Armas credited some of that to Mariposa’s defense, which came out in a different look than the Grizzlies have played all season designed to stop Denair’s powerful running game.
“Their defense was pretty active. They were getting to the ball pretty well,” Armas acknowledged. “We made some adjustments in the second half.”
The Coyotes also play defense and – led by linebackers Christian Obando and Will Knox – they contained Mariposa most of the game.
“Those two guys played really well,” Armas praised.
JV score: Mariposa 56, Denair 7. The Coyotes are 1-8 overall and 0-6 in the Southern League.
This week: The Coyotes close the regular season with a short bus ride to Waterford (3-6, 1-5), which was beaten 52-7 at home last week by Gustine. “They’re struggling,” Armas said. “They have a new head coach so they’re a team in transition. But they’ve got a good JV team, so they’re going to be better next year.” … The Wildcats have lost four games in a row, allowing the opposition to score at least 50 points in all of them. … Denair has won straight and not allowed more than 13 points in any of those contests. … The Coyotes’ only league losses in the past two seasons have been to Ripon Christian. Their last league defeat to anyone other than RC was the final game of the 2017 season, 27-21 to Waterford.