Call it déjà vu, a decade of dominance or straight up ownage. Regardless of what it’s labeled as, the result for the past 20 years has been the same.
On one end of the field, a team is hearing a thank you speech from coaches. On the other side of the field, the ringing sound of a bell is drowned out by excited cheers. For 20 years, it has been Calaveras celebrating and Bret Harte searching for answers.
Not only did Calaveras defeat Bret Harte for the 20th straight game, but it also clinched a share of the Mother Lode League title and gave the seniors a game to remember on senior night. Yes, for the team ringing the bell, it was a near perfect evening.
“This feels great,” senior Zeke Martinez said after Calaveras’ 42-14 home victory over Bret Harte at Frank Meyer Field in San Andreas. “It’s good to be league champs for the first time since 2013. It was a great win tonight.”
With Calaveras celebrating with “The Bell” at midfield, Bret Harte took a knee by the end zone and listened to the words of interim head coach Kelly Osborn. While Osborn voiced frustration of losing to Calaveras, none of his anger was directed at his players. In fact, Kelly repeated a number of times of how proud he was for the effort that was given since he took over the program in September.
“The thing that I have strived for and the other coaches are trying to push for is the fact that we want to compete,” Osborn said. “I feel that in the last three games, we’ve competed. We are still very young and inexperienced, with nine of 22 players without any former football experience. We are just new to the game. The fact that we fought is what I’m proud of. There was no quit and we had a little bit of that when we started the year and I was proud of them that there wasn’t any of that in the last three games.”
For Calaveras’ first-year head coach Doug Clark, he knew that Friday was an important game for his 12 seniors and he wanted to make sure each of them saw the field. After senior kicker Andrew Celli kicked the ball away to begin the game, Clark sent out the remaining 11 seniors to start the game on defense. And with a big 42-14 victory, Clark made sure that everyone got an adequate amount of playing time.
“It’s hard to come here every day, work your butt off and not get any playing time,” Clark said. “But, that’s the reality of this sport at this level. So, when everybody gets to play, that’s the greatest feeling that I can walk away with tonight. Above a league title and above playoffs, I’m thrilled that everybody got to contribute in some way.”
Even though Bret Harte entered Friday’s game without a Mother Lode League win to its name in nearly two years, the Bullfrogs had no intention of just rolling over and it showed in the opening 12 minutes of the game.
After an early Bret Harte punt, Calaveras fumbled the ball away on its first play from scrimmage and the Bullfrogs took over at midfield. Sophomore quarterback Kenny Scott broke a run for 13 yards and junior running back Tyler Cabral followed with a scamper of 14 yards. Bret Harte’s drive reached Calaveras’ 21-yard line, but that’s where it stalled and a missed field goal turned the ball back over to Calaveras.
Bret Harte’s defense held Calaveras’ rushing attack at bay and looked as if a 3-and-out was near. But Calaveras senior quarterback Nolan Dart connected with Martinez for a 48-yard completion and then Dart hit junior Jake Black for 15 yards. Sophomore Jake Hopper capped the 80-yard drive with a 17-yard run to give Calaveras a 7-0 lead with 3:33 to play in the first quarter.
Calaveras found the end zone again with 11:15 to play in the first half, as junior Clayton Moore scored from 2 yards out to give his team a 14-0 lead. After a Bret Harte 3-and-out, Calaveras looked to extend its lead, but Bret Harte junior defensive linemen Kodiak Stephens had other ideas. Play after play, it was Stephens coming up from the bottom of the pile after holding a Calaveras running back to a short gain.
“We’ve always been good at stopping the run game,” Stephens said. “It was nothing special; we just plugged up the gaps and made it hard for them to run through.”
Stephens appeared to be unblockable and was also able to get to Dart for a 5-yard sack. The strong play from Stephens forced Calaveras to punt, which didn’t go well. Stephens broke through the line, put a hand up and blocked Dart’s punt. Bret Harte senior Adam Ange picked up the ball and returned it to the Calaveras 11-yard line.
“I’m not taking anything away from (Kodiak) Stephens,” Clark said. He’s an athlete, a competitor and any coach would dream to have him on their team. Yeah, he’s that good and we knew that.”
Following the blocked punt, Bret Harte moved the ball to the Calaveras 1-yard line and Scott called his own number and scored on a quarterback keeper right up the middle. In a stretch of four plays, Bret Harte cut Calaveras’ lead to 14-7.
“It felt amazing to score,” Scott said. “Everyone in the crowd was going wild and it was an amazing feeling that everyone had my back.”
Clark was not surprised by the emotion of Bret Harte, nor was he surprised by the effort given by his team up to that point.
“We played how we practiced this week,” Clark said. “It was not a great week of practice. We had two days of power outages with no school and then Halloween on Thursday and then we didn’t have school today. You could make every excuse in the world, but in the first half, we played like we practiced.”
Following a failed Bret Harte onside kick, Calaveras took over at midfield with three minutes remaining in the half. Calaveras drove down the field and for the second time in the game, Hopper found the end zone. His 4-yard touchdown gave Calaveras a 21-7 lead with 1:33 left in the second quarter.
Thanks to the second sack of the game by junior Caden Villegas and two time outs, Calaveras forced Bret Harte to punt with under 20 seconds to play in the half. Clark was hoping for a big return and senior Jonny Lozano granted his wish, as he returned the punt 62 yards for Calaveras’ fourth touchdown of the first half.
“Their punter has a good leg, so we knew that we’d actually be able to have a return,” Clark said. “I was a little surprised that they didn’t kick it out of bounds. But regardless, we were going to try a home run play on offense, but our first goal was to run one back and it was successful.”
Regarding the punt return that gave Calaveras a 28-7 lead, Lozano said, “Clayton Moore and I faked like we were going to the left and we went to the right. He threw a good block and Jake Black also gave me a good block and I just ran as fast as I could to the end zone.”
The touchdown on the punt return to end the half took a lot of the wind out of Bret Harte’s sails.
“That really kicked us in the gut, because we worked on our punt coverage every day this week,” Cabral said. “We worked and worked on it and then they go ahead and score on us, so it was disappointing.”
Calaveras got the ball to begin the second half and on the first play, Calaveras had a sure touchdown. Dart threw a perfect pass to a wide open Black, but the junior receiver was unable to secure the ball and the play was nothing more than an incomplete pass. Lucky for Black, his number was called again a few plays later and he made the most of his second chance. Black scored on a 47-yard pass from Dart to put Calaveras ahead 35-7.
“I was glad that coach called the play again,” Black said. “I knew that I had to catch the ball when it was in the air. It was a great throw by Nolan (Dart) and I’m glad I was able to catch it and go for a touchdown.”
After the success of the first quarter, Bret Harte’s offense had trouble moving the ball on Calaveras’ defense. As a team, the Bullfrogs gained only 86 yards on 39 attempts for an average of 2.20 yards per carry.
“It was pretty tough running the ball tonight,” Cabral said. “The holes were plugged and the linebackers were coming up fast and filled their holes like they were supposed to.”
Calaveras scored its final touchdown of the night late in the third quarter, as Hopper broke free for a 53-yard run to give Calaveras a 42-7 lead. Even though Calaveras was done scoring, Bret Harte was not. Late in the fourth quarter, Cabral picked up a Calaveras fumble and rumbled 47 yards for the touchdown.
“I could see the ball go off his right hip, so I moved up from my safety position and picked up the ball and started running,” Cabral said. “I thought I was going to get caught from behind, so I kept looking to make sure I wasn’t going to get caught.”
Cabral finished the night with 69 yards rushing, which was a team-high. Senior Drew O’Flinn rushed for 16 yards on six attempts in his final high school game. Hopper led all rushers with 112 yards and three scores. As a team, Calaveras rushed for 275 yards. Dart had another solid game through the air, going 5 for 8 for 139 yards and one touchdown.
The season is now over for Bret Harte, but that is not the case for Calaveras, who will find out its playoff seeding when the brackets are released Sunday afternoon. Until then, Clark will enjoy Friday’s victory and relish in being able to call Calaveras league champs for the first time since 2013.
“I’m as happy as could be,” Clark said.