Hawks football holds off Rangers to stay undefeated

Mission Oak defeats Redwood 28-24, wins first ever playoff game in Division II

TULARE – After a two-year hiatus, playoff football is back in the Central Valley. Last Friday’s matchup at Bob Mathias Stadium lived up to the hype in a first-time meeting between two Tulare County teams as Mission Oak held off Redwood’s late game comeback attempt to win their home playoff opener.

In the first playoffs under the new format for division rankings, Mission Oak’s undefeated record elevated them up to a fifth seed in Division II after spending several seasons hovering between Division III and Division V. For Redwood, not much changed as they stayed in their normal division but they ended up with a low seed, no. 12, after a 4-5 regular season record.

The most impactful play of the night came in the game’s final minute with the Rangers marching down the field for a potential game-winning touchdown. Yellow flags littered the field, with most of them going against the Mission Oak defense, which aided the Rangers getting down inside the red zone. However, it was a penalty on the Redwood offense that nearly decided the game as they completed a pass down to the goal line but it was negated due to offensive holding. On third and 25 with 28 seconds left, Redwood junior quarterback Francisco Alvarez dropped back to pass and was intercepted by Mission Oak senior defensive back Lorenzo Nunes for the game-clinching turnover.

It was the first playoff for the program in their first season under head coach Michael Machado and likely won’t be the last.

“We told our team that Redwood High School was probably going to be the best team that we have played all season. They’re probably the pillar along with Tulare Union for football programs in Tulare County,” Machado said.

It was another statement win for the Hawks just a few weeks after putting up 54 second half points to defeat Tulare Union. They got on the board first against the Rangers with a 39-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Anthony Ledesma from senior quarterback Rudy Navarro. The lead didn’t last for long as Redwood immediately responded with a touchdown run by senior Damien Garcia to tie up the game at seven points each after the first quarter.

The second period definitely proved to be the difference in the game. The Rangers opened the quarter with a 29-yard field goal to take their lone, brief lead of the night which was then met by 14 unanswered points by the Hawks. Redwood went into the halftime break down 21-10, a deficit that dwindled but never dissipated.

The Rangers, who were coming off a disappointing loss in the Cowhide game against Mt. Whitney, had their opportunities to get back on track but Mission Oak’s playmakers were seemingly too much to handle. Garcia’s second touchdown run of the night in the third quarter made the score 21-17, but the Hawks immediately responded with a 70-yard kickoff return by Ledesma which resulted in a touchdown two plays later.

Redwood’s next drive was promising enough to get near the red zone, but was derailed by a plethora of potentially drive-killing penalties. On first and 25 from the 42-yard line, senior receiver Ashton Ibarra bailed out his offense by blowing past the Hawks cornerback on an end zone fade that resulted in the game’s final touchdown in the final minute of the third quarter.

The Mission Oak connection of Navarro and Ledesma led the way offensively for the Hawks. They connected six times for 160 yards and a touchdown. Navarro added two more touchdowns as both seniors have added a valuable spark to the offense as transfer players. Navarro was at Farmersville last year while Ledesma spent his first two years at Tulare Western before transferring prior to his junior season.

“I wanted a change. I felt like over here I could have a great opportunity to show my worth,” Ledesma said.

As the team’s leading receiver by 400 yards, his worth to the team has been tremendous. Mission Oak will travel to Kingsburg this Friday to battle the Vikings in the second round of the Valley playoffs at 7 p.m.

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