CHOWCHILLA – “You’re making history and your legend is growing.”
That was the message Chowchilla High football coach Alex Pittz shared with his team after the Redskins knocked off Fairfax of Los Angeles 28-16 in the Southern California Regional Division IV-A Bowl Championship Game on Saturday night.
The Redskins (12-2) will become the first team in school history to play for a state title on Saturday at 6 p.m. when they face Sierra of Manteca. The Timberwolves defeated Sutter 17-13 in a NorCal Regional Bowl Championship Game.
“This is a special group,” said Pittz, who was told by the California Insterscholastic Federation that Chowchilla would host the state bowl game if they won prior to the regional bowl. “I told them at our team dinner (Friday night), I’m selfish. I want you guys for one more week. I don’t want this to end. When it ends, everyone goes there own way. You keep in touch, but it’s not the same.”
The Redskins advanced because of their toughness.
Chowchilla had running backs going in and out of the lineup after getting banged up. Senior Alex Gutierrez is playing with a broken left wrist. Anthony Stewart injured his shoulder late in the third quarter when he was slammed to the ground. Danny Chavez was kept asking for the ball despite playing through bumps and bruises.
Despite all the injuries, the Redskins still outplayed a bigger, faster Fairfax team.
“That was the most physcial game we played all year,” Gutierrez said.
“We knew about their size and knew (Ramses Hernandez) ran hard,” Pittz said. “I’m proud of how tough are guys were. Our guys just kept getting up, they kept fighting.”
The Lions (8-7) struggled against Chowchilla’s double-wing, rushing attack.
The Redskins racked up 371 rushing yards with Gutierrez (138 yards), Chavez (102) and Stewart (100) all rushing for at least 100 yards.
Chowchilla set the tone with the opening drive of the game, marching 58 yards on nine plays with Stewart powering his way into the end zone on a 5-yard touchdown run to give the Redskins a 6-0 lead with 9:51 left in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, the Lions offense struggled against Chowchilla’s defense in the first half. Fairfax managed only 70 yards of offense in the first half as the Redskins came out hitting hard and often.
“I felt they hadn’t played a hard hitting time like us this season,” Gutierrez said. “I watched film and I didn’t see any of their opponents pop them in the mouth. That’s what we were able to do.”
The Redskins forced Fairfax to turn the ball over on downs on its first possession and after Chowchilla turned the ball over on its second drive, the Redskins defense forced a three-and-out.
Chowchilla’s offense then pounded their way down the field on a 14 consecutive rushing plays that covered 93 yards with Chavez scoring on a 15-yard run with 8:58 left in the second quarter. Stewart ran in the two-point conversion to extend the Redskins’ lead to 14-0.
When the Lions did score, the Redskins answered right back.
Obed Hernandez kicked a 23-yard field goal to get Fairfax on the board at 14-3 with 2:01 left in the second quarter.
However, Justin Cantrell returned the ensuing kickoff 65 yards for a touchdown to give the Redskins a 21-3 lead at the half.
The Lions opened the second half with a 79-yard kickoff return for a touchdowy by Ramses Hernandez to cut the lead to 21-10.
Chowchilla answered again, with another long, time-consuming drive that was capped off by Stewart’s second touchdown of the game on a 9-yard run to extend the lead to 28-10 with 9:42 left in the third quarter.
“That was absolutely huge,” Pittz said. “If we go three-and-out there, they get the momentum. But that’s the beauty of our offense. We can put together a seven-to-eight-minute drive. We can take the air out.”
Hernandez (147 rushing yards) broke free for a 69-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 28-16 with 8:13 left.
The Lions just couldn’t get the Redskins offense off the field and when it became clear Chowchilla was going to win the Fairfax players became unglued. The Lions were penalized for three personal fouls on the Redskins final drive, including one player ejection for cursing at the officials.
“They were stepping on us, pushing us and cussing at us,” said Chowchilla two-way lineman Gary Nieuwkoop. “They definitely got frustrated. It was mostly in the second half. Even when I tried to help them up they wouldn’t take my hand.”
The Redskins can now turn their attention to Sierra and focus on getting healthy for Saturday.
“In a championship game we tell our guys they can hurt tomorrow,” Pittz said. “We’ve got to address those injuries and get treatment. Hopefully we can get as close to 100 percent next week.”