Mustangs usurp Emperors, running back breaks rushing record

Tulare Western defeats Dinuba 47-10 to move on to semifinal playoff round against Hanford, Tairyn Johnson breaks school rushing record

By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN

TULARE – Tulare Western’s sound victory over the Dinuba Emperors was more than just a ticket into the semifinals. It was also an illustration of what hard work, perseverance and support can do.

On the Mustangs (10-2) way to advancing toward the division II title game over Dinuba (5-7), senior running back Tairyn Johnson advanced past a previous record holder to write his own name in Tulare Western history books. In his 158-rushing-yard performance last Friday, Johnson broke Tulare Western’s career rushing record with 4,087 yards in three years on varsity. According to head coach Ryan Rocha, the record was more about Johnson’s character than anything else.

“He’s like a son to me…you grow attached to kids, you got them for weight training and summer…and to see a kid overcome obstacles in his life and see him fail and get back up, that’s why you coach,” Rocha said.

Johnson admittedly lost his way when life challenged him, taking away close family members.

“Huge losses to people close to me. They were like my backbone and I was really lost for a second there. I never really had a father in my life, but coach Rocha he was like a father figure and he really helped me get back on track,” Johnson said.

The senior running back, and new Tulare Western rushing record holder, said he owes most of his success to his mother and his coaches.

“Outside of football it is my mom who takes me out every single weekend. She says that she wants me to be great. She doesn’t want me to be stuck in Tulare, so she puts me through training,” Johnson said. “And these coaches here, they have been great.”

For a season where they defeated crosstown rival Tulare Western, and entered the playoffs at 8-2, Johnson isn’t focusing on individual victories. He want to get over the proverbial hump and win a valley title.

“It’s about not being focused on it. Just playing our brand of football. We don’t want to focus on what the past did we just want to make history for ourselves,” Johnson said.

They took another step, albeit a familiar one, toward history against a scrappy Dinuba team. The offense scored practically at will, and the defense stifled Emperor senior quarterback Josh Magana. The Mustang defense managed to harass him all night, forcing four quarterback hurries and four sacks.

Magana’s biggest play came in Dinuba’s second possession of the third quarter when he connected with wide receiver Brian Ruiz on a skinny post. Ruiz fought off Mustang tacklers for a 70-yard touchdown. The score was their last of the night, but it did cut the Mustang lead down 27-10.

Tulare Western had no problem responding though. Stand in quarterback Mikey Ficher, replacing injured Elijah Burrell who tore his labrum against Tulare Union, was essentially a running back who happened to take snaps. His only pass was from the 7-yard line on fourth down. Dinuba sold out to stop the run but Ficher floated the pass to waiting arms of Mustang nose guard Mario Gonzalez.

The score was unconventional, but so is the offense. Rocha, who had run a spread offense when Burrell was healthy has had to adapt to a run heavy scheme now that Ficher is calling the plays.

“When we lost to Redwood and we were heavily dependent on the pass I said that we needed to create an offense that isn’t reliant on Elijah,” Rocha said. “We never knew he would go down but we can’t run an offensive spread set without having that number two guy that can go in there, especially with a special group like this.“

Dinuba’s chances of winning were all but dashed, in particular when they failed to respond with a score of their own. The nail in coffin was Johnson’s 81-yard run for a touchdown. Johnson had gashed the Dinuba defense all night, but he took advantage of a hole in the line and created a chasm of separation between himself and defenders to put the Mustangs up 40-10.

But if Johnson’s scoring dash was the nail, junior Rolando Holmes’ touchdown was the dirt sprinkled over the grave. Holmes took the ball more than 60 yards to the end zone, to finish off the Emperors, on the first play of the fourth quarter, and set the final at 47-10.

Next on the playoff bracket is a rematch between Tulare Western and the undefeated Hanford Bullpups. One of the Mustang’s two regular season defeats came at the hands of Hanford in September. It was a 36-28 stunner that saw strong defensive performances, and a fest of turnovers. Tulare Western will have to re-enter the dog pound this Friday, Nov. 22 for the semifinal round. Game time is 7 p.m.

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