Porterville rolls through Pioneer Valley in playoff opener

Porterville’s Ayden Alba sacks the Pioneer Valley quarterback. The Porterville defense only allowed three points and recorded two takeaways in the win over Pioneer Valley.(Kason Clark)

The Porterville Panthers win 41-3 over Pioneer Valley to open the Division 3 Central Section playoffs; quarterback Ethan Enriquez threw four touchdowns in the win for Porterville

PORTERVILLE – The postseason is finally here for high school football as many local teams will look to claim the Central Valley crown. The Porterville Panthers are one such team looking for a title as they will compete in the Division 3 Central Section playoffs this month.

The Panthers’ quest for a title began this past Friday night, Nov. 3, at Jamison Stadium when they hosted Pioneer Valley. Looking for a strong start to the postseason, Porterville rolled right through Pioneer Valley for a 41-3 victory.

“I’m just happy with the way the guys came out and competed,” Porterville head coach Keith Thompson said about the win to open the postseason. “We were down a couple key players, but guys stepped up in certain roles and came out and had a big game.”

The Porterville offense especially played well as quarterback Ethan Enriquez threw four touchdown passes. Dominic Perez caught two touchdowns while Samuel Alcantar scored twice on the ground for Porterville. While the playmakers racked up the stats, Enriquez credited the coaches and the offensive line for putting them in a position to succeed.

“We had an amazing game plan. We made every right decision to pick their defense apart,” Enriquez said. “And the offensive linemen, I have to thank those people who always put me in their hands.”

The Porterville defense also had a stellar game, only allowing three points to a Pioneer Valley offense that averaged 24.9 points a game in the regular season. It looks like the defense is now finding its stride as it has allowed 15 total points in its past three games.

“The last couple of weeks, the defense has been on fire,” Thompson said. “If we can continue to play like that, we could be a scary team in Division 3. There’s a lot of good teams left so we have a lot of work to do but hopefully we keep going.”

Porterville has now won three straight games to improve to 7-4 this season and advance to the quarterfinals. As the Panthers get deeper into the playoffs, Thompson believes getting healthier as a team will be key to their success.

“We’re getting guys back. I think that’s the biggest thing,” Thompson said. “As guys come back, we’re going to get a little bit better every week so hopefully we continue to progress.”

The Panthers looked more than healthy on their first drive of the night against Pioneer Valley.  Starting the drive at the 50-yard line, the Panthers drove right down the field to the 12-yard line. Alcantar then got the carry and ran right through the defense for the touchdown to give his team a 7-0 lead.

The Panthers then blocked a punt to start their next drive at the Pioneer Valley 38-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Enriquez found Perez deep down the middle for a touchdown to push the lead to 14-0. While the offense started hot, Enriquez credited the defense for giving them great starting field position early in the game.

“The defense came in clutch,” Enriquez said. “Defense always wins games and defense wins championships. You always have to remember that.”

Pioneer Valley responded with a field goal to cut Porterville’s lead to 14-3. But the Porterville offense kept rolling as Enriquez found Perez deep for a 45-yard touchdown to make it a 21-3 game heading into halftime.

Pioneer Valley drove down the field on its opening drive of the third quarter, but Porterville got the stop to give the ball back to the offense. The Panthers then drove right down to the Pioneer two-yard line, where Alcantar took the toss into the endzone to make it a 28-3 game.

Looking for the killing blow, the Panthers attempted and recovered a surprise onside kick. A few plays later at the Pioneer 40-yard line, Enriquez threw the ball up to Izaya Welsh, who was in double coverage deep down the field. Despite the coverage, Welsh came down with the ball and broke loose to take it into the endzone for the touchdown and the 35-3 lead.

“My playmakers are insane. I’ll just throw the ball up there sometimes because I know they’ll get it,” Enriquez said. “I have all the confidence in my receivers.”

After a Pioneer turnover, Enriquez connected with Jonathan Ruiz for a 28-yard touchdown strike to make the final score 41-3. The No. 8 seed Porterville Panthers will next head on the road to San Luis Obispo to face Mission College Prep, who had a bye to open the postseason as the No. 1 seed.

It gets harder for the Panthers as they will have to play there this Thursday, Nov. 9, instead of getting the full week to prepare. Under those circumstances heading into a postseason game, Thompson knows his team will have to be more than ready if they want to keep their run going.

“We’re up against the odds as we have to travel there on a short week versus a very good team,” Thompson said. “So it’s going to take focus from now until the end of Thursday.”

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