The players on the field didn’t care that it was just a junior varsity football game. The coaches on the sidelines didn’t care. And perhaps most importantly, the fans on either side of the field didn’t care. For the first time in nearly two years, Calaveras and Bret Harte battled on the football field.
The coveted Bell was not up for grabs and no streak was on the line, but that didn’t make the game any less meaningful. And at the end of the night, with the football season officially over for both squads, it was Calaveras who beat the Bullfrogs 42-32 Friday night at Dorroh Field in Angels Camp.
“It felt good to have that rivalry going again and having the community involved,” Bret Harte head coach Kelly Osborn said. “We’ve heard a lot here for quite a while that it really isn’t a rivalry unless Bret Harte ever wins. But, I think we earned some respect tonight. I’m proud of our guys because of how hard we played and how young we are in a lot of positions. We had a lot of freshmen on the field tonight and those kids really stepped up and met the challenge that we gave to them.”
It took Calaveras just one play from scrimmage to find the end zone. Quarterback Ethan Ayala connected with tight end Scott Beadles for an 82-yard touchdown pass and with an added 2-point conversion, Calaveras led 8-0 with 9:21 to play in the first quarter.
Calaveras scored its second touchdown with 6:12 to play in the opening quarter. Running back Cody Ferrante plowed five yards for the score. Calaveras went for two but was unsuccessful, but led the Bullfrogs 14-0.
Bret Harte’s offense began to move the ball, thanks to a long pass from quarterback Dylan Knick to receiver Boston Williams. The drive ended with a 1-yard run by fullback Dakota Stephens for Bret Harte’s first touchdown of the night. Knick found Williams for a 2-point conversion, which cut Calaveras’ lead to 14-8 with 2:57 left in the first quarter.
Midway through the second quarter and still trailing by six, Bret Harte’s defense made a critical stop on fourth down and began to move into Calaveras territory. With 3:34 to play in the half, Knick kept the ball on a keeper and scored from 2 yards out. Knick then connected with Blayne Pullin for the 2-point conversion and Bret Harte led 16-14.
Calaveras didn’t trail for long. The visiting squad moved down the field and with 26 seconds left in the half, Ayala found Amelio Rodriguez in the corner of the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown pass. The 2-point conversion failed and at halftime, Calaveras had a 20-16 lead over Bret Harte.
The third quarter didn’t start the way Bret Harte hoped, as a fumble on the opening drive was recovered by Calaveras. Following the turnover, Calaveras got into the end zone with a 10-yard run by Beadles. The 2-point conversion was again unsuccessful and Calaveras’ lead remained 26-16.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Ayala threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Chase Lozano and then Calaveras’ quarterback added the 2-point conversion with a keeper. Calaveras led 34-16 early in the fourth quarter.
Ayala had his best game of the year Friday night and ended the season in an offensive position he didn’t start the year at.
“He was going to be my halfback and I switched him to quarterback for the Argonaut game and he threw the heck out of the ball,” Calaveras head coach Brent Boitano said. “He’s got a great arm and he’s a little guy who can run QB keeps and I’m really glad to have him in our program.”
Trailing by 18, Bret Harte’s time to mount a comeback was running out. Stephens found the end zone for the second time, as he scored from 8 yards out on a strong run up the gut. Knick connected with Pullin for the 2-point conversion and Bret Harte was down 34-24 with 5:52 to play.
Calaveras’ final touchdown came on a perfect 35-yard pass from Ayala to Beadles. Beadles found the end zone three times and two of those scores came through the air. Beadles was not originally on Calaveras’ roster when the season began, but once he joined midway through the season, quickly became one of the main offensive weapons.
“I had been talking to Scott (Beadles) all summer and I knew what kind of athlete he is,” Boitano said. “His parents wouldn’t let him play at the beginning of the year, but he was at practice and when practice would start, he would leave. I told him to keep talking to his dad and he finally told me his dad said he could play and I said, ‘Get out here, we need you.’ He’s one of the best athletes in the league, JV or varsity. I’m going to love to see him the next two years. He’s going to be awesome.”
With a victory seemingly off the table, Bret Harte had the option of running out the clock, or continuing to fight for more points. The resurgent Bullfrogs wanted to end the season with a touchdown. On the final drive of the year, Bret Harte went over 80 yards and with 12 seconds left on the clock, Knick found Williams for a 10-yard touchdown pass and the duo then converted the 2-point conversion for the final points of the year.
“They never doubted themselves and they didn’t doubt that they were ever out of a ballgame and I’m proud of them for that,” Osborn said of his squad.
Calaveras finished the season with an overall record of 5-3, while going 4-1 in the Mother Lode League. Calaveras’ only league loss came against Sonora.
“We always know that we have a tough preseason schedule and we do it for a reason and it makes you stronger for league,” Boitano said. “They improved immensely. We have more freshmen than sophomores on this team and I’m really proud of them.”
The Bullfrogs finished the season with a 4-4 record. Because of COVID-19 testing, injuries and other factors, Bret Harte didn’t have its full roster for any Mother Lode League game, which includes Friday night.
Typically following the final game of the season, the head coach will thank all the senior players and will often get emotional with their goodbye’s. That wasn't the case for Osborn. Not only will all of his players have the opportunity to play in 2022, but he is hopeful that some of the students sitting in the stands Friday night will want to join the team next year.
But regardless of who shows up in 2022 and what their record may be, the Bret Harte team of 2021 will always have a special place in Osborn’s heart.
“I’ve been really inspired by these kids,” Osborn said. “I’ve never seen a more resilient bunch, because I’ve never had to deal with as much adversity in my 31 years of coaching football as I have this year. When you lose four or five players before a game because of Covid testing, it takes things to a new level to play the chess game faster and try to strategize with what you have left. We came out here with 16 guys today and with the way we performed, I’m just really proud of them.”