WATERFORD – The Calaveras Jr. Reds varsity football team didn’t celebrate too early. Even with a 28-16 lead late in the fourth quarter, nobody assumed that the game was in hand. But when Jeylin Calbert intercepted a pass from Linden quarterback Herrera Cruz with under a minute to play, the Calaveras players and coaches were finally able to celebrate.
When the clock at long last hit zero and Calaveras had officially defeated the Linden Lions 28-16 Saturday, Oct 28, it was given the title of 2017 Motherlode Valley Football League Super Bowl champions.
“It feels really good, mainly because Linden beat us 36-16 three weeks ago in our last regular season game,” said Calaveras head coach Brent Boitano.
There was no question that Calaveras was at a disadvantage when it came to the number of players it had. Calaveras only had 16 players suited up for the Super Bowl. Although they might have been outnumbered, Boitano knew there was one area that his team could not be matched.
“My pregame speech was about intangibles,” Boitano said. “I told them that what Linden can’t account for is our heart and they didn’t. We don’t have a lot of great players. We have two or three great players and they have six. I was really impressed with my players grit and their tenacity tonight.”
The Reds found themselves in trouble early in the game. Following a Calaveras fumble, Linden reached the end zone in only two plays. With 5:27 remaining in the first quarter, Calaveras trailed 8-0.
Early in the second quarter, Calaveras was able to get its offense moving. Fullback Jake Hopper used a power rushing attack to move the ball close to midfield. But it was Calbert, who delivered big with a 47-yard run all the way to the Linden 13-yard line. A penalty moved the ball to the six and Hopper capped the 70-yard drive with a touchdown run behind the left tackle.
Hopper connected with the PAT (which counts for 2-points) and Calaveras tied the game 8-8 with 5:32 left in the first half.
Calaveras’ defense made big plays when it had to. Linden marched deep into Calaveras territory late in the second quarter, but the Reds forced a fumble which was picked up at the Calaveras six for Linden’s first turnover of the game.
Linden responded by intercepting a Calaveras pass and took over at the Reds 13 with 1:04 left in the half. But again, Calaveras’ defense made big plays. Defensive tackle Konnor Ford made a stop six yards in the backfield and Dominic Boitano intercepted a pass, which kept Linden from taking the lead.
The score remained 8-8 at halftime.
Just like they did on their first drive of the game, Linden started the second half with a touchdown. With 7:38 remaining in the third quarter, the Lions led 16-8.
Calaveras used its ground game to move the ball deep into Linden territory. Calbert broke a run for 14 yards, bringing the ball to the Linden 10-yard line. On second-and-goal, Calbert took a handoff up the middle, but quickly realized there was nowhere to go. He bounced to the right and tried to run outside the tackle. Once Calbert got the edge, he stiff armed a defender, broke the tackle of another and ran over one Lion on his way into the end zone.
Calaveras had its PAT blocked, so with 2:20 left in the third, the Reds trailed 16-14.
With less than 20 seconds to play in the third quarter, Linden had the ball near midfield. A Lion running back was wrapped up by six Reds and a large scrum began to form. It would seem that a whistle would blow to stop the play, but not a sound was heard. That is until the Calaveras fanbase started to cheer as Calbert was streaking down the far sideline with the ball in his hands.
Calbert scored on a 45-yard fumble to give Calaveras a 22-16 lead.
“Travis Byrd came off the field and he said to me, ‘Coach, it was out early. I was tackling him and he didn’t have the ball,’” said Boitano. “So Calbert stripped it early, but he couldn’t get out of the scrum fast enough, but they didn't know that he had the ball.”
Calaveras held onto its six-point lead until late in the fourth quarter. The defense forced a Linden turnover on downs and on the following play, Hopper scored his second touchdown of the evening on a 29-yard run to give Calaveras a 28-16 lead with 2:20 to play.
Hopper and Calbert each ended the day with 108 total yards rushing and two touchdowns.
“Jake has been our horse all year,” Boitano said. “I was blessed this year to have two good running backs and that’s a rare thing at this level. The last half of the season, Calbert has carried us and the first half Jake carried us. When you have two good running backs, other teams have to account for both of them. And in the end, you can’t.”
Calaveras celebrated the win with its friends, family and fans. A large trophy will now have the name of the 2017 Reds on it. But in the end, Boitano feels the win boils down to one simple thing – heart.
“Linden has a lot of athletes and we have a lot of guys with heart. And that’s what it came down to,” Boitano said of his 2017 Super Bowl champions.
Contact Guy Dossi at 498-2053 and follow him on Twitter at @GuyDossi.