Danny Chavez was nearly unblockable. The Chowchilla High middle linebacker consistently put pressure on Washington Union quarterback Ashanti Ross all game.
Chavez wasn’t alone.
Redskins defensive end Joseph Faafiti and outside linebacker Ronnie Reyes were getting hits and chasing Ross in the backfield as well.
Chowchilla sacked Ross three times and forced two other key intentional-grounding penalties. The Redskins’ defense came up with two big fourth-quarter stops to help Chowchilla take the Central Section Division IV championship with a 20-16 win at John Ventura Stadium on Friday night.
“Honestly, I just like hitting people,” Chavez said. “I was just doing my thing, playing hard. I was giving it my all.”
“He had a banged up shoulder all week,” Chowchilla coach Alex Pittz said. “We talked all night how you can hurt tomorrow. He put everything aside. It’s his senior year and he wasn’t going to let that stop him.”
The Redskins (11-2) won their sixth Valley Championship in school history and their first since 2008. The win also clinched a berth in a Southern California Regional Bowl Game next week.
“I’ve had the privilege of being a part of two Valley Championship teams as a defensive coordinator,” Pitz said. “It’s really special as the head coach. You’re in charge of coordinating everything. Seeing everything come together for this team is great. This is something these kids will take with them into their adult lives.”
The Redskins’ offense got rolling in the second quarter against a stingy Panthers defense that has only allowed 13 points per game.
Chowchilla used a nine-play, 80-yard drive to tie the score at 7-7. The Redskins powered their way on the ground on all nine plays as Alex Gutierrez scored on a 17-yard touchdown run.
Gutierrez played with a cast on his left arm after after breaking it early in a 30-12 loss to Washington Union on Oct. 16.
The Redskins were a different team with Gutierrez on the field this time around.
“It’s a huge difference,” said Gutierrez. “When I got hurt the first time, it was a big upset for our team. Everyone’s heads were down. There was no enthusiasm. Coming into this game we wanted redemption.”
The Redskins marched down the field on their second possession of the second quarter, needing just three plays to go 68 yards. Anthony Stewart, who finished with 202 yards on 21 carries, started the drive with a 37-yard run. Chavez broke free for 27 yards and then scored on a four-yard run to give the Redskins a 13-7 lead with 5:52 left in the half.
The Redskins had an opportunity to extend the lead after Chavez sacked Ross and forced a fumble that Reyes recovered. However, Chowchilla’s drive stalled in the red zone just before the half.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” Pittz said. “They don’t quit. When you’re playing against a team who always feels they are in the game, it’s dangerous. We were playing against a great defense.”
Just when it looked like the Redskins had some breathing room after Gutierrez scored his second touchdown of the game on a six-yard run to extend the lead to 20-10 with 1:05 left in the third quarter, the Panthers quickly answered back.
Devontae Massey returned the ensuing kickoff 61 yards to set up the Washington Union offense at the Chowchilla 24-yard line. Two plays later, Ross found Massey for a 28-yard touchdown to pull the Panthers within 20-16 with 1 second left in the third quarter.
The Redskins’ defense took over from there, but it still needed a bit of luck late in the game.
After Washington Union forced Chowchilla to punt, the Panthers took over at their own 27 with 1:22 left in the game. On first down, Ross threw deep to speedster Johnny Rodriguez, who sprinted past Redskins safety Bernardo Bustillos down the right side line.
Ross hit Rodriguez in stride with nobody between him and the end zone, but Rodriguez dropped the pass.
“When I saw that pass I was scared, I’m not going to lie,” Chavez said.
Pittz said his thoughts couldn’t be printed as he saw the play unfold.
“We may have had some divine intervention,” Pittz said. “I don’t know how to explain that play. Sometimes you have to have luck on your side to make it happen.”
The Panthers were able to get a first down, but Faafiti recorded a sack the next play, and after intentional grounding on third down, Washington Union was staring at a fourth-and-23.
An incomplete pass on fourth down sealed the win for Chowchilla, which exploded on the sideline as the Redskins celebrated.
“It’s amazing,” Gutierrez said. “We’re the first team from Chowchilla to go to a state game. It’s the last year of the Redskins. We wanted to win this for our community.”