Taft football ends Tigers’ playoff run

Top-seeded Wildcats defeat Woodlake 49-13 in Central Section Division VI semifinals

WOODLAKE – The Woodlake Tigers came up three quarters short of playing for the Central Section Division VI championship losing to top-seeded Taft 49-13 on the road in the semifinals last Friday.

Wildcats quarterback Jackson Berry beat the Tigers with his arm and legs in all phases of the game. He threw for 117 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 96 yards two touchdowns, including a 43-yard score on a quarterback option, and even returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Running backs Julian Woodards and Cyris Gaylord rounded out the Taft attack with touchdowns of their own. In all, Woodlake’s normally stout defense gave up 437 yards of all purpose yards in the loss.

“They have a very good quarterback and he had a very good game,” Woodlake head coach Jeff Johnson said.

Woodlake was tied in the first quarter following a 6-yard touchdown run by Hector Rodriguez until Berry returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, breaking four tackles along the way for a 13-7 lead.

The Tigers were unfazed and drove the ball all the way down to the Wildcats 8-yard line. On 4th and 6 with a chance to take the lead, Woodlake quarterback Junior Cervantes was backpedaling under pressure and attempted to throw it to Shane Rodriguez in the flat when defensive back Richard Jennings intercepted the ball and returned it 98 yards for a touchdown, giving Taft a 19-7 lead. It was one of three interceptions on the night for Cervantes who was under intense pressure throughout the game. Woodlake wouldn’t score again until Cervantes connected with Rodriguez for a 5-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

“I’d rather my quarterback go down swinging than just take a sack in a game like this,” Johnson said of his senior signal caller. “He played his heart out but the game just didn’t go our way.”

In the third quarter, Wildcats runningback Cyris Gaylord ripped off a 38-yard touchdown, giving Taft a 37-13 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Taft’s Julian Woodards capped off the 49-point night by taking the handoff and running over Woodlake defenders for a 14-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Woodlake tried to hang with Taft and was able to gain 324 yards of total offense, but only 80 yards on the ground. The Woodlake offense was unable to make key third down plays only converting 4 of 13 on the night.

After going 4-6 in the regular season and finishing in 3rd place in the East Sequoia League, Woodlake entered the D-VI playoffs as the No. 4 seed. The Tigers pulled off two close games against No. 13 Torres in the first round and No. 5 Delano in the quarterfinals.

Most of Woodlake’s wins this season came through outstanding defensive performances with opponents averaging just over 10 points. In contrast, Woodlake gave up an average of 40 points in their losses. Johnson said the playoff loss will help fuel the time next year which is expected to return all of the coaching staff and at least half of its starting roster.

“Our JV team played well this year and we have some underclassman we are excited about for next season,” Johnson said.

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