Football: Woodlake ends Exeter’s 16-year winning streak in Valencia Cup rivalry game


Damian Hernandez leads Woodlake to first win over Exeter since 2002

By Patrick Dillon @PDillon_SGN

EXETER – Damian Hernandez was 10 months old when Woodlake kicked a field goal to win a triple overtime thriller, 26-25, over Exeter in 2002. And it only took 16 years for Hernandez, Woodlake’s starting signal caller, to lead his Tigers back to victory over the Monarchs on Friday night, Aug. 24 at Monarch Stadium.

Damian Hernandez runs along the far side of the field on his way to score. Photo by Patrick Dillon.

Damian Hernandez runs along the far side of the field on his way to score. Photo by Patrick Dillon.

Although, this group of players never lifted the cup they played hard-nosed football throughout the game and never backed down leading them to a 28-15 streak ending victory. 

As for Hernandez, little did he know he’d play an integral part in the win.

“I am kind of shook up about it,” Hernandez said. “My boys backed me up. It is a great day to be a Tiger.”

Woodlake trailed Exeter 15-14 with less than six minutes to go in the game. A Tiger punt pinned the Monarchs inside their own 10 yard line. Exeter ran straight into the teeth of the Tiger defense and was held for no gain or a loss of yardage each time. Then a delay of game pushed Exeter back inside their own 5 yard line. After a third straight run was stopped Exeter lined up for a punt. 

Chad Hilvers stepped into the back of his own end zone for the punt and had to scoop up the ball on a botched snap. With Tigers rushing the line Hilvers scrambled to his right looking for an open receiver. Before he could let the ball go the Tigers defense was on him and he threw it straight into the ground while he was still in the end zone which was called intentional grounding by the refs leading to two points for Woodlake, gifting them the 16-15 lead

The Tigers received the ensuing kickoff from the Monarchs and set up at their own 44 yard line. After a 24-yard run by Victor Rojas set up Woodlake inside Exeter territory the Monarchs began to lose their composure. Rojas was tackled out of bounds along the Exeter sideline. 

Rojas and Exeter players exchanged words on the sideline leading to a shoving match between them. The extra curricular  activity resulted in a 15-yard personal foul penalty against Exeter that took Woodlake down to the Exeter 19 yard line.

The Tiger defense held Exeter’s offense out of the end zone in the fourth quarter of the game on Friday, Aug. 24. Photo by Patrick Dillon.

The Tiger defense held Exeter’s offense out of the end zone in the fourth quarter of the game on Friday, Aug. 24. Photo by Patrick Dillon.

Rojas could only gain another five yards in their series of downs. Woodlake opted to try for a field goal on fourth down to make sure Exeter needed to score a touchdown in order to beat them. The attempt was no good. However, offsetting penalties gave Woodlake another chance.

This time Woodlake’s offense trotted back out onto the field. The call in the huddle was for a trap play to Rojas. While the play developed Hernandez noticed the weak-side defensive end for Exeter giving up containment and crashing down to make the big play. Hernandez then pulled the ball away from Rojas and ran it into the far side corner untouched. His touchdown made it 22-15.

“I just feel like I needed to do that,” Hernandez said. “It was like walking into heaven.”

Rojas with less than a minute to go ran in some insurance points by taking the ball from nine yards out for a 2-point conversion and his only score of the game. He finished the night with six carries for 41 yards.

“It was a hell of job, it was a hell of a job by everyone on this team,” Woodlake head coach Jeff Johnson said. “They have been wanting this since January and that is the expectation.”

Woodlake entered the second quarter trailing Exeter 6-0. Hernandez with about nine minutes to go tied up the game with a 40 yard touchdown hurl. The Tigers missed the point after attempt which tied the game tied at 6-6. Before halftime Exeter retook the lead 13-6.

Hernandez in the third quarter played a part in the Tigers gaining their first lead of the game. Both teams exchanged possessions until Hernandez ran 49 yards for his first rushing touchdown. After a two-point conversion the game was close at 14-13. 

On the ground Hernandez had four carries for 72 yards. In the air he went 14-28 for 169 yards.

“He is a warrior,” Johnson said. “He got banged up a little back there and he kept fighting.”

Exeter had their chances to retake the lead and put the game away in the fourth quarter. On the Monarchs first drive Nathaniel Heath took a run down to the one yard line. After failing on the first scoring attempt Jaykob Acosta tried to score himself, but fumbled the ball. Edward Munoz for the Tigers recovered it. Four plays later Exeter was handed the lead when Woodlake committed a safety. The Tigers’ punter Bryan Cuevas jump to catch a high snap in the back of the end zone and stepped on the line to make it 15-14.

Once with the lead again the Monarchs did not know what to do with it. On the first play of their ensuing drive Acosta was sacked for an 11 yard loss. What followed was a series of rushed throws from constant pressure by the Tigers defense. The rare passes which Acosta had time to plant his feet were delivered on target, but it was his receivers who dropped the ball.

“When it came down to facing adversity we did no execute very well,” Exeter head coach Keirsten Lamb said. “We had several chances to put the game away and we shot ourselves in the foot.”

This Friday the Tigers walk into game 3 undefeated. They will put that record on the line at the Caruthers Blue Raiders at 7:30 p.m.

Exeter will hit the road as well. They will face the McLane Highlanders this Friday at 7:15 p.m.

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