Submitted by Denair High School:
Three days after Denair’s wrenching 17-14 overtime loss to Mariposa for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI football championship, Anthony Armas was not in a reflective mood. The emotions were still too raw. The disappointment was still too real.
The Coyotes were just a few plays from their second consecutive Section title. Instead, they suffered what might have been their most painful loss in recent memory.
“I think it’s a good thing we don’t have school this week,” Armas admitted Monday morning. “I think we all need a little time to decompress. Football people know how good Mariposa is and how hard it is to win a Section title, but it would be hard to have all the kids coming up and asking, ‘What happened?’ ”
The two Southern League rivals – meeting for the second time in a month – played a physical and defense-dominated first half in which neither team scored.
“Both teams have good defenses. It was a typically tight, tough playoff game,” Armas said.
But the momentum swung quickly after Denair (9-3) received the second-half kickoff. Senior running back Jorge Yanez, playing with a sore shoulder that Armas though might force him to miss the game, ripped off a 56-yard run on the first play. Then on the next snap, Dylan De Silva sprinted 21 yards to the end zone to give Denair a 7-0 lead.
The drive took all of 23 seconds.
Mariposa (7-5) gave the ball right back by fumbling on its next possession. Yanez immediately capitalized, scoring on a 35-yard run.
The Coyotes were ahead 14-0 and barely a minute had run off the clock in the third quarter. On the Denair sidelines and in the stands at Turlock High, everyone sensed that the Coyotes were on the verge of breaking the game open. That feeling was magnified when Yanez in intercepted a Mariposa pass on the Grizzlies’ next possession.
But Denair couldn’t take advantage of the turnover and had to punt. Then it was Mariposa’s turn to get its fans into the game, scoring on a 74-yard run to cut Denair’s lead in half.
“Everybody on our side got kind of excited,” Armas said. “Then Mariposa scored pretty fast and we went from a high to a low. You could feel it.”
Mariposa tied the game early in the fourth quarter on a short pass, putting the pressure on Denair’s offense to put together a drive that might win the game. As usual, the Coyotes turned to their running attack, leaning on De Silva and Yanez and their talented offensive line.
Starting on its own 20-yard line with 9:50 to play, Denair steadily marched downfield. The Coyotes chewed up nearly 6 minutes to gain about 30 yards. But one of their Achilles’ heels this season has been turnovers. On the 10th play of the drive, Denair fumbled and Mariposa recovered at about midfield.
“I think that’s kind of been our hiccup the whole year,” Armas told Front Row Preps. “We haven’t been protecting the ball as well as we’d like to. Obviously, a problem, but we do what we can. Our kids played their butts off and sometimes you’re just going to lose a ball, and we did.”
That set the stage for another frantic finish between the two teams.
When Denair beat Mariposa 14-13 at home on Oct. 25, the Coyotes stopped a two-point conversion attempt late in the game that would have given the Grizzlies the lead and later watched as Mariposa missed a short field goal with 40 seconds to play that would have won the game.
Friday’s ending had a similar feeling, just with a different outcome.
After Mariposa moved inside Denair’s 5-yard line, the Coyotes’ defense held, forcing another field goal attempt with 17 seconds left in regulation. This time, a muffed snap foiled the kick before it happened.
Tied at 14-14, the teams headed to overtime.
This time, the magic ran out for Denair. It got the ball first at the 25-yard line in overtime, but couldn’t gain a first down and had to settle for a 38-yard field goal attempt, which fell just short.
Mariposa was next. The Grizzlies got to the 12-yard line before they were stopped on third down, setting up a 29-yard field goal to win the game. The kick was good and the celebration began on the Mariposa sideline.
For Denair, it was a bittersweet way to end a memorable season.
“Losing hurts, but we’re really proud of them,” Armas said of his players. “They played a great game.”
For Denair’s seniors, the game capped an incredible two years that saw the Coyotes win a state title last season and play for a Section title this fall.
“This team was full of hard workers. They were a close-knit group and completely bought in to what we’re doing,” Armas said. “They were just a fun group of kids to coach. … Their intelligence allowed us to do things on offense that we’ve never done before.”