Lamb coaches Monarchs to 9-0, matches 2008’s win record
The Exeter football team improves to 9-0 after its 12-7 win over Sierra Pacific this past Friday; the Monarchs now match the record of the 2008 Exeter team that finished the season with a 9-2 record
EXETER – Every once in a while, a program will have one of those seasons where things line up and fall into place to create something magical. And that is what is happening for Exeter football as the team is off to a 9-0 start, its best record to start a season since 2008.
Many pieces have to come together to build a team this successful. Of course, you have to have good players on the roster, but a team needs that strong culture that breeds success. And according to Exeter head coach Keirsten Lamb that culture has been the driving force of their success this year.
“They’re a lot of fun, they work hard, they like each other and they want to see each other be successful,” Lamb said. “We’ve been telling them since the end of last season that they have the opportunity to put something magical together because they have the tools and the players here.”
Along with a strong culture and a good roster, the Monarchs also find ways to keep themselves hungry despite beating every foe this year. For senior Gunner Lentz, he finds that drive to win by wanting to prove any doubters wrong.
“Why not us? We’ve been underdogs through every game,” Lentz said. “I feel like we come out, we compete, we try to put our talent on show to other schools and we just give everything we have.”
But being undefeated has not always been easy. Just this past Friday, Oct, 20, at Monarch Stadium, Exeter had to gut it out for a 12-7 victory over Sierra Pacific to reach that 9-0 record. While it was an ugly game for both teams, Lamb was proud of the Monarchs for finding the will to win.
“They battled all night long. They bent but they never broke,” Lamb said. “I’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss any day of the week.”
All the points were scored in the first two quarters of the game as Exeter had a 12-7 lead at half. The second half saw plenty of punts and failures to convert fourth downs from both squads. But the Bears got the ball back with about two minutes remaining with a chance to win the game. Their final drive even started with a personal foul on Exeter that wiped out an interception and put the Bears near midfield.
But the Bears struggled to move the ball as they found themselves in a fourth and one. With the game on the line, the Monarchs sacked the quarterback to close out the night and maintain their unblemished record.
Defense leads the way
“We knew it was going to come down to defense,” Lentz said about the final stand against the Bears. “We knew our defense was going to have to step up big time and we did.”
The defense has been excellent all season long, limiting opponents to 15.1 points a game this season. While the offense gets plenty of attention, Lamb knows they would not be undefeated without the efforts of their defensive unit.
“Our defense has played phenomenal all season long. They’re hard nosed, they play tough and they understand their assignments,” Lamb said. “Hats off to our defensive staff for that because they’ve created that culture on that side of the ball with those kids.”
The Monarch defense is led by stellar players in their secondary. Cornerback Joseph Ruiz leads the team with 57 total tackles and eight interceptions this season. Other playmakers in the secondary include Lentz with 47 total tackles and free safety Ruben Ruiz with three interceptions. As the Exeter secondary has made big plays this season, Lentz credits the coaching staff and the team culture for their success.
“Our coaches are putting us in the right spots so we can make plays for ourselves,” Lentz said. “And when we start getting behind and start lacking, our teammates pick us up and bring us back together and we lock in.”
Offense making an impact
While the offense struggled against Sierra Pacific, the Monarchs have still played well on that side of the ball as they average 33.6 points a game this year. Quarterback Jacob Molina has been dynamic for the Monarchs with 19 passing touchdowns and nine rushing scores. While he has had an excellent individual season, Molina knows it would not be possible without his supporting cast.
“We’re just trusting each other, I’m trusting my offensive line, they’re trusting me and I’m trusting my receivers,” Molina said. “And we all trust the game plan which helps us win.”
Like their game against Sierra Pacific, the Monarchs have faced their fair share of adversity throughout the season. Early in the year on the road against Woodlake, Exeter trailed 17-7 at halftime. But the Monarchs responded with 28 unanswered points in the second half to win and improve to 2-0. And that was the moment when Lentz realized the Monarchs had a special group this season.
“We found a way to face the adversity and we battled back as a team,” Lentz said. “We didn’t get down on each other, we picked each other up and we came back and won the game.”
Lamb looks to finish the job
Of course, the Monarchs’ success would not come without the leadership of their head coach. Lamb’s journey as head coach began in 2017 when he took over the program. His first season, the Monarchs went 5-6 and clinched a postseason berth. But the following year, injuries plagued the Monarchs as they went 2-7.
Since then, the Monarchs have improved every year under Lamb’s leadership. The Monarchs improved to 5-7 in 2019 and then did better in 2021 with a 6-5 record. The Monarchs continued their climb in 2022 as they went 7-4 and won the Tri-County Sequoia League.
The continued improvement of the program demonstrates the growth of the players on the roster. As a senior, Lentz has seen how the Monarchs have matured from previous years.
“I’ve noticed that in practice in other seasons, we would mess around and goof around,” Lentz said. “But this year, we pay more attention, we’re more active and we’re watching way more film.”
Lamb’s ties to the Monarchs go back further to that 2008 squad where he served as the running backs coach. While he and Monarchs had a great season that fall, they could not finish the job as they lost to Central Valley Christian in the regular-season finale and then lost to Washington Union in the playoffs to end the year with a 9-2 record. As he leads the Monarchs himself this year, Lamb hopes to learn from those losses and finish this year better.
“We can almost use that as a springboard,” Lamb said. “We just have to finish what we started and we started this way back then and we’ve been doing it every day since. Let’s continue to stay on the grind and do what we do.”
This Exeter squad will look to finish the job this season with just one more game in the regular season. This Friday, the Monarchs will go on the road to face the 2-7 Reedley Pirates. With this game standing between the Monarchs and an undefeated regular season, Lamb wants his players to stay focused and humble.
“Our mantra is don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Don’t let people tell you how good you are, you be how good you are and let your actions and your work speak for itself,” Lamb said. “We have to take care of ourselves and do what we do every day and we can’t worry about how hard somebody else is working. We just have to be working at our peak capacity so that we continue to get better every day.”
Monarchs supported by local community
Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, the Monarchs have had an exciting season that has not gone unnoticed by the local community. As the only high school football team in Exeter, the Monarchs have received a lot of support from local fans, and they sure appreciate it.
“People are excited about what’s going on here. This is a special place because this town and this community are very close knit,” Lamb said. “With one high school to support, the community rallies around that and it’s fun.”
And with such passionate fans behind them, the Monarchs want to keep playing well to reward their support.
“It feels great coming out every Friday and being able to show my talents to the town,” Lentz said. “When we win, it’s not for us. It’s more for the town to show them that we’re Exeter and that we’re here to stay.”
As the Monarchs focus on a strong finish to this year, what they have already accomplished this fall should provide a strong foundation for this program growing forward. Molina will return for his senior year next fall, and he is looking forward to trying to carry over their success from this season.
“We can build off of what we do this year,” Molina said. “We’ll carry on what we’re doing this year into next year and it helps us believe in what we’re capable of.”
“The future’s bright, the cupboard’s full and the junior varsity team is doing really well. There’s a lot of kids playing football here and they’re going to continue to grow,” Lamb said about the future of the program. “We just have to continue to do what we do and embrace the process that we’re in. And when new kids come in, make sure that they’re on the ship with us and get them up to speed and keep the train on track.”