The Mustangs defeated the Titans 42-7 in the first round of the Division II valley playoffs
By Jermaine Johnson II @Jerm_10
TULARE – Last Friday, the No. 5 seed Tulare Western Mustangs dominated the No. 12 seed Nipomo Titans. During weeks four and five the Mustangs fell to 3-2 after losses to Redwood and Hanford, each by a touchdown or less. They have not lost a game since then.
“When we went on a two-game losing streak, we realized we aren’t as good as we thought we were and we can’t just go out on a field and win,” Tulare Western head coach Ryan Rocha said. “Each week it became, ‘let’s just keep getting better.’ The more games you get in the playoffs is another week of practice and it’s a blessing to have another week of football.”
Nipomo received the opening kickoff and missed a field goal on their first drive of the game. This would be one of the few opportunities they would have to put points on the board for the rest of the game. The Mustangs were without starting quarterback Elijah Burrell who injured his shoulder in last week’s game against Tulare Union. He was replaced by junior Mikey Ficher who had made big plays throughout the night. On the Mustangs’ first offensive possession, they were backed up in third and long when Ficher dropped back to pass. He rolled out to the right and didn’t see any open receivers before he rolled back to the other side of the field and ran for the first down. It was called back for holding but those kinds of plays proved that the moment was not too big for Ficher.
“He’s a star,” said Rocha. “I’ve never had a kid before that I trusted so much. The rest of the team feeds off of him. He’s a 4.0 GPA kid and a grinder.”
The first points of the game came from the Mustang’s leading rusher Tairyn Johnson. He outran the defense on an outside run that went 54 yards for the score. From that point on, it was a strong defensive battle for the rest of the first half. On the next possession, Tulare Western went on defense and senior safety Jose Valencia came away with the interception. Both teams traded punts until the final minute of the half. The Titans were stuffed on third down which prompted a timeout by Rocha to stop the clock. His team got a good punt return and were nine yards shy of the red zone. A few plays later, Ficher threw his first touchdown of the game to junior Rolondo Holmes. Ficher finished the game with 281 combined yards passing and rushing plus three total touchdowns. Holmes added 138 yards with two scores. The Mustangs went into halftime with a 14-0 lead.
After some adjustments, the Mustang offense lit up the scoreboard in the third quarter. They scored three touchdowns to go up 35-0.
“We started off slow in the first half but at half time we talked it over and we were able to come out and execute,” said Ficher.
The Mustang defense only allowed one touchdown which didn’t come until the fourth quarter. They were flying around all night and made some crushing hits.
“Rocha says to punish our opponents on every play…make them not want to play us anymore,” said Ficher. “We have that mindset and we just go out and hit.”
On Friday, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m., the Mustangs will host the No. 12 Dinuba Emperors who have a 5-6 record. Coach Rocha knows his team still has a lot of work to do since their quarterback will be making just his second start of the season.
“You’re a new team now. You’re a new offense since you have a new quarterback,” Rocha said to his team. “We’re excited to be getting another week to get him better.”