It was a shocking start to the season – literally – for the Denair High football team.
Trailing 14-6 at halftime Saturday night, the Coyotes never got a chance to try to catch up against Big Valley Christian.
That’s because lightning strikes to the east that were creeping ever closer to Jack Lytton Stadium presented an obvious and imminent safety risk to the players, coaches, fans and officials, forcing Denair High Principal Breanne Aguiar and head coach Anthony Armas to cancel the rest of the game.
“It wasn’t easy, but it was the right call,” Armas explained Monday. “They wanted to play, we wanted to play. Everybody was bummed.”
Armas said he saw at least four or five lightning bolts light up the sky late in the first half. Though they were off to the east, the problem was that they were moving in the direction of the stadium.
“I have a friend with a weather app who was tracking it,” Armas said. “It was getting worse. The storm was coming.”
At halftime, the game officials told Armas that it wasn’t up to them to decide whether to continue play; that he and Aguiar were the ones who had to make the call.
“It was kind of chaotic,” Armas said. “I was in the locker room. I was on the phone to our principal. We thought we should call the game. Then I had to find the officials and the other coach. It was hard. It’s the first game of the season and the kids wanted to play, the fans were there, but it was the right decision.”
Before the weather interrupted it, the actual game was going about as Armas expected, especially for the first week. The Coyotes made a few mistakes, but were hanging in there.
“Even with all of that happening, we’re only down eight points,” Armas said. “On defense, I thought we pursued the ball well. We limited our penalties. Offensively, there’s stuff we have to fine tune. We did fumble on our first play from scrimmage, but other than that, we didn’t have any turnovers.”
Jesse Ruelas’ short touchdown run in the first quarter cut Big Valley’s lead to 7-6. The Lions added another TD in the second period to make it 14-6 … and then Mother Nature decided she had other plans.
Not surprisingly, with only 14 players on its varsity roster, stamina was an issue for Denair.
“I thought we were a little gassed, but that’s what you expect with the numbers we have,” Armas said.
The lack of depth became an even bigger issue before the game when wingback Jayden Hensley hurt his knee in warmups and couldn’t play. Armas expected to learn Monday how serious the injury might be.
“We had no backups for that position,” he said. “We took one of our wide receivers, Angel Rosas, and moved him to wingback. Every play, one of our coaches would have to tell him what to do. ‘Angel, you’re going to line up on the right and block No. 3.’ ”
The roster issues were exacerbated with 3 seconds to play in the first half when one of Denair’s linemen got into a shoving match on the Big Valley sideline with a player he was trying to block. The officials ultimately kicked both players out of the game – meaning each will have to sit out three games before they are eligible to play again.
Coupled with Hensley’s injury, the means Denair has only 12 players left who started practice last month. Armas said there are no reinforcements coming from the JV team – which won its game 21-8 – but that two guys who played on last year’s team and initially were not going to play this season changed their minds. After passing physicals, they were expected to join the team at practice Monday, bringing the Coyotes back to 14 eligible and/or healthy players.
The new players are required to have 10 practices before they can play a game, giving them just enough time to be ready before Denair plays at Riverbank on Sept. 1 (the Coyotes have a bye this week).
Without a doubt, though, the biggest memory from the season opener will be the lightning and how it dramatically affected everyone’s plans Saturday night.
“It was the first time I’ve ever had a game called like that,” Armas said. “It was weird.”