The Pitman Pride bounced back from a tough loss to Buhach Colony a week ago to take their first Central California Conference victory on Friday night, downing the Atwater Falcons 35-14.
“I think that's a real good football team,” Pitman Head Coach Tom Tyler said. “I'm real proud of our kids.”
The game was closer than the final score may indicate. The Falcons (4-3, 1-1 CCC) were within seven points of Pitman (5-2, 1-1 CCC) as late as the fourth quarter.
But holding on to that narrow 21-14 lead, the Pride broke the game wide open on a 68-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Wyatt Clapper to wide receiver Chance Hagar.
Not bad for a team known primarily for its rushing attack. And not bad for Hagar – a defensive back – whose teammates could be heard marveling on the sidelines “He's not even a receiver” after the play.
“Chance is a real dynamic player,” Tyler said. “It was our decision to try to get him more involved in the game plan.”
On that magnificent touchdown pass, Hagar made multiple Atwater defenders miss, juking the shoes off of one man.
“I'd like to thank God,” Hagar said, “and thank my coaches for putting me in the position to show what I can do and help the team.”
Pitman stuck to their run-heavy offense on the opening possession of the game, pounding the ball from their own 36 to the Falcon end zone on eight rushing plays. It was Mario Lewis who ultimately scored, running in from the 10 to give Pitman an early 7-0 lead.
Atwater threatened to strike back a few drives later, getting to the Pitman 15. But a big sack set up a second-and-15 from the Pitman 20 – and gave Hagar his first big moment of the night.
Falcon quarterback Nathan Duran had his target in the end zone, but Hagar was there to leap in front of the pass and intercept the ball, barely getting his feet down at the back of the end zone. Hagar said he was just covering his man, and was in the right place at the right time.
It was Hagar, again, who made the Pride's next scoring drive possible. On a third-and-10 from the Pitman 20, Clapper found Hagar wide open in the middle of the field for a 50-yard pass play. A 23-yard screen pass to Drew Lewis and a one-yard Mario Lewis touchdown dive made the score 14-0.
Atwater bounced back just two plays later with a 74-yard touchdown pass from Duran to wide receiver Ronald Evans, with blown coverage leaving Evans wide open to run down the right sideline. Pitman coaches were screaming that it was a “freshman football mistake.”
But Pitman responded on their very next drive, with wide receiver Marcus Vasquez – another player known better as a defensive back – emerging as a true threat. Vasquez caught passes for for 33, 13, and 17 yards on that drive, that last 17-yarder a touchdown after Clapper faked two hand-offs and found Vasquez open in the end zone.
The surprisingly pass-heavy offense was just a case of Pitman taking what Atwater was giving them, Tyler said, as the Falcons were selling out to stop the run.
Again, Atwater showed they would not go down without a fight, with Evans running back a 74-yard kickoff return to set up a 14-yard Ed Kemp fly sweep touchdown. Pitman made a mistake in coverage on that play too, jumping inside rather than containing Kemp. The score made it 21-14 at the half.
Neither team would score in the third quarter, though Atwater came close after recovering a Mario Lewis fumble at the Pitman 26. The Pride defense stood strong though, and the Falcons whiffed on a field goal attempt – their second missed field goal of the evening.
Atwater got to the Pitman 16 early in the fourth quarter but, not wanting to attempt another field goal, saw their drive stymied when a fourth-down pass to the end zone was broken up by Pride defensive backs.
It was then that Pitman put the game away, on that 68-yard pass from Clapper to Hagar.
Atwater fumbled the ball away on their next drive, with Drew Lewis recovering. Pitman then ground out the rest of the game clock before running back Logan Wolfley scored on a 25-yard touchdown run to end the game at a final score of 35-14.
“We played great,” Hagar said. “We had a few mistakes on defense, but we recovered, and the offense came ready to play.”
The Pitman Pride will play the Merced Bears (5-2, 2-0 CCC) next week, in a tough match-up against one of the top 100 teams in the state. The game is set to kick off at 7 p.m. Friday at Golden Valley High School.