Mission Oak holds off Exeter’s comeback attempt, win 20-14 on game-winning touchdown
TULARE – It’s hard to win a football game without a starting quarterback, but both the Mission Oak Hawks and Exeter Monarchs were seconds away from making that happen in last Friday’s dramatic showdown. The game needed two overtime periods to determine a winner, but it was Mission Oak scoring the walk-off touchdown to win 20-14 and stay unbeaten on the season.
Football fans that enjoy a low-scoring defensive slugfest would have enjoyed the battle between the Hawks and Monarchs. The game’s first score was a defensive touchdown which set the tone for how the rest of the night would go. Both teams could only muster two touchdowns in regulation as Exeter erased a 14-0 deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime. Mission Oak attempted a game winning field goal of about 35 yards with just under two minutes remaining but came up short.
Both defenses continued to show up in the first overtime period as they both recorded takeaways which pushed the game into a second period of free football. The Monarchs got the ball down to the goal line in the second period, but backup sophomore quarterback Ruben Ruiz coughed up his second fumble in as many possessions, which proved to be the costliest.
The Hawks got the ball back and had senior receiver Anthony Ledesma’s game-winning touchdown catch negated by to an illegal block in the back. It didn’t matter much as a few plays later, senior Jaden Hernandez took a jet sweep and outran the entire Monarch defense before diving into the end zone for the walk-off score.
The Hawks came into the game prepared to play without their starting quarterback and best offensive weapon Michael Iriye who missed the game due to injury. On the contrary, Exeter starting signal caller Jake Rowlett went down towards the end of the first quarter which threw a major wrench in his team’s game plan.
Most coaches will boast a “next man up” mentality which was the case for both sides on Friday. In this case it was both defenses picking up the slack for the offensive struggles. Upon Rowlett leaving the game in pain with an inability to put weight on his right ankle, Ruiz stepped in and felt the heat during his first ever snaps at quarterback in high school. First snap was over his head resulting in a third and 36, deep in his own territory. On the next snap he was almost immediately swarmed with defenders. He tried to throw the ball away but it fell in the arms of a defender that was already in the end zone, for the shortest pick-six the Hawks may have all season.
From turnovers to goal line stops, a majority of the game’s biggest plays came on the defensive side of the ball and both units only gave up one touchdown in regulation. The Hawks scored their lone offensive touchdown towards the end of the third quarter to take a 14-0 lead. The Monarchs opened the final period with a strong drive led by several big runs by Ruiz. He capped it off with a 5-yard touchdown run for his team’s first score of the night.
According to Mission Oak head coach Michael Machado, the game’s turning point came on the subsequent drive. After his quarterback took a sack on third down which resulted in a fourth and long, they were forced to punt away to one of the Central Valley’s best kick/punt returners. The punt was short but Exeter senior Dewayne Coleman made an intelligent heads-up play and came flying up from deep to cleanly field the punt off a bounce and had nothing but green grass in front of him. Once he’s in space, not many people will catch him and suddenly the game was tied at 14-14.
Both teams had their chances to end it in regulation but the defenses continued their stellar play. The Monarchs drop to 3-2 on the season with consecutive losses but the Hawks are now 5-0 in their first full season under Michael Machado. They now set their sights on competing for a top spot in the East Yosemite League (EYL), something they haven’t done in several years. In 2014 they repeated as league champions but since then they haven’t won more than two EYL games in a season with a combined record of 7-18. Their first test will have a bit of emotion behind it as they face Porterville, the team Machado previously coached at up until last season.