Football: Trailblazers advance to first state championship


Golden West defeats Big Bear to become CIF Division 5AA SoCal Regional Champs 41-21, Blazers will host Division 5AA State Championship game

By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN

VISALIA – Golden West’s historic season will be one that’s tough to beat for future teams. Two weeks ago, Golden West hadn’t so much as appeared in a valley championship game; they beat CVC 27-21 in an overtime thriller. Last week, Golden West hadn’t ever appeared in a state regional championship game; they defeated Big Bear (13-1) 41-21 with a masterful second half performance. Now, this week, Golden West will host the CIF State Football Championship Bowl Games Division 5AA Championship at Groppetti Automotive Visalia Community Stadium.

The only other team to host a state championship game in Tulare County was last year when Strathmore welcomed the St. Patrick-St. Vincent Bruins to Spartan Stadium. The Bruins ended up taking the championship last year but Strathmore took revenge on Friday when they played them again at Strathmore Stadium and moved on to the 6AA championship game with a 49-35 win.

“To host a state championship game here, I hadn’t ever thought about it. It’s realms beyond my head right now,” said Golden West head coach Paul Preheim.

While the score appeared as if Golden West trounced Big Bear, things were far from certain in the first half and in the beginning of the second. The Trailblazers lost one of their strongest running backs in Christian Ortiz to a knee injury on a drive that saw the offense picking up seven to 12 yards per rush. On the very next play, quarterback Payton Allen fumbled on a keeper that turned the ball over to Big Bear. Golden West’s defense managed to hold, but the offense had some trouble adjusting.

When Big Bear got the ball back, they took over on their own 10. Mostly successful for their ability to run, Big Bear quarterback Chase Dowty slipped through the line on a QB run and racked up 82 yards when he was tackled at the 8 yard line. One play later, Big Bear running back Daniel Jett rushed in for the game’s first touchdown.

Fortunately the Golden West offense began to roll on the legs of Gonzalo Rodriguez, who rushed for three touchdowns in the game, and Kai Caudell. But it was Ben Davis who responded with the Trailblazer’s first score with 5:00 left in the half.

aul Cardenas (3) tackles a Bears player at Groppetti Community Stadium on Friday night. Photo by Susi Youngs.

Raul Cardenas (3) tackles a Bears player at Groppetti Community Stadium on Friday night. Photo by Susi Youngs.

Golden West’s defense went on to catch a lucky break when Dowty fumbled on a read-option play. Taking over with 48 seconds left at the 43 yard line, Golden West rushed down to the 28. Despite the passing game being well defended all half, Golden West put the ball in Allen’s hands. His first and only completion of the game was a perfectly thrown ball that floated over the hands of the out stretched defender and over the shoulder of Caudell. Out in some space along the far sideline, Caudell took the ball the into the end zone for the leading score 14-7.

Too bad the half didn’t end there. Against CVC the Blazers lost their stellar offensive lineman Zac Foley in a late first half drive, this week they would lose Payton Allen, who also plays safety, when Big Bear was trying to respond. Closing in on a runner trying to take advantage of the 25 seconds left on the clock, Allen lit him up with a hit and a resounding helmet to helmet clack.

When both teams came out of the half, backup quarterback Tyson Sandry was forced to line up under center while Allen was ruled out of the game by the coaching staff.

“Yeah, Payton was cleared to play but we didn’t want to take any chances. His health is number one over a state championship,” Preheim said.

Things didn’t exactly pick up where they left off, either. Big Bear took the opening second half kickoff to the house when they drew the coverage in on a fake handoff. That score tied up the game 14-14, but Golden West responded on their next possession.

With Ortiz and Allen both out of the game, there wasn’t much that was certain with the offense heading onto the field, which is why it was so encouraging for fans and coaches to see the Blazer offense respond with a Rodriguez touchdown within five plays.

Rodriguez became a one-man wrecking crew when it came to the Blazers’ second half points. He went on to score from one yard and then 40 yards out in successive drives that widened the lead 34-14. Caudell went on to get a score as well when Davis came up with a bobbling interception half way through the fourth quarter.

“Big Bear is a heck of a team…and I’m really proud of how our team came out and performed in the second half,” Preheim said.

Golden West suit up for the last game of the season against the McClymonds Warriors (13-0) from Oakland at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 16. This will be the Trailblazers’ 11th game at Groppetti, and their 13th game in Visalia this season. Golden West’s only game outside of the city was against Kingsburg before West Yosemite League play began.

In 2017, Golden West has not lost a game when playing as the home team.

The Blazers pose with the SoCal plaque after their win. Photo by Susi Youngs.

The Blazers pose with the SoCal plaque after their win. Photo by Susi Youngs.

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