Tulare Union moves to 2-1 as they defeat Mission Oak 56-6, Hawks move to 0-3
TULARE – Tulare Union and Mission Oak are two of the few teams in Tulare County who are benefiting from a spring season. Both squads are using this time to iron out some wrinkles on the field in preparation for a full season in the fall. One team is much farther ahead than the other, as shown by Tulare Union’s 50-point victory over Mission Oak last Friday.
The disparity between the teams is understandable. The Tribe are led by head coach Darren Bennett who is in his 25th season with the team. The Hawks are led by head coach Michael Machado who just joined the school in the offseason, and is in the midst of implementing an entirely new regime.
Tulare Union will be primed for a Valley Championship run next year. That is nothing new for Bennett who has won five Valley Championships with the Tribe, with back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018. They have a lot of youth on their roster who is benefiting greatly from these four spring games. Of their eight touchdowns against Mission Oak, five came from players who will be returning next season. Junior quarterback Jorge Gonzalez connected with junior receiver Pedro Alvarez on four touchdowns, a career high for Alvarez. Sophomore running back KJ Daniels also found the end zone and accounted for over 100 yards on the night. Daniels also led the team in rushing last season as a freshman.
The Tribe’s other three touchdowns came from a pair of star seniors they will surely miss next season. For the second week in a row, senior defensive back Xavier Hailey returned a punt for a touchdown. Hailey has been a staple on the team’s defense over the last four seasons and will be playing Division I football at the University of New Mexico.
Receiver Willie James scored the game’s second touchdown off a 26-yard reception. He also scored the game’s final touchdown in the fourth quarter to give his team the 50 burger, after a 90-yard house call on a kick return. It was preceded by Mission Oak’s lone touchdown which came off a 72-yard connection between senior receiver Juan Ortiz and junior quarterback Michael Iriye who has shown a lot of promise in the last three games for the Hawks.
As for James, he has plans to play football somewhere at the next level but is currently unsure of what that will look like. He’s not stressing over it as his ultimate goal is to become an animal biologist, and football is just a vehicle that can help him get there.
While Tulare Union seems to already know what their identity will be next year, Mission Oak is going through the growing pains of implementing a new coaching staff. The unpredictable offseason was just another hurdle they’ve had to overcome, but they are likely one of the teams that will benefit the most from these few spring games. Head Coach Michael Machado considers it to be a huge advantage to be playing these games, and deems it will be a huge benefit going into the fall.
“It’s like a college program, basically. You get an opportunity to see guys in pads in the spring, then give them a couple of months off and come back ready for the fall,” Machado said. “We won’t have to learn much about our guys. And I think when you look around the Valley, you’ll be able to tell what teams played in the spring and what teams didn’t within those first three or four games in the fall.”
Both teams have one more game on their schedule. Tulare Union will travel to Hanford this Friday, April 9 at 7 p.m. Next Saturday, April 17, Mission Oak will host Corcoran at 7 p.m.