Less than 24 hours after suffering a humiliating 74-6 road loss to El Dorado, Bret Harte head football coach Kelly Osborn had to make some tough decisions.
The Bullfrogs played on a Monday night against El Dorado and in the process, lost a number of players to injury. And with a roster that was already thin, losing one or two guys can make a big impact. Not only did the Bullfrogs have to heal their wounds after the loss to El Dorado, but they had to be ready to play four days later for their first homecoming game since 2019.
Unfortunately for Osborn, he didn’t know if he’d have enough players to field a varsity team. One option that was put on the table was to only play a junior varsity game. The other option was to only have a varsity game and pull up some fresh JV players to the varsity squad. Or the third option was to somehow figure out a way to have enough players on both teams so that both games could be played, even if that meant that both squads had very few substitutions.
Before Osborn made his decision, he had a meeting with his senior players. And once he spoke with the elders on the team, it became clear that regardless of what had to be done, a varsity game needed to be played.
With only 16 varsity players, the Bullfrogs got to play on homecoming night. But just playing the game wasn’t good enough for the Bret Harte seniors. No, they wanted to win, and that’s exactly what happened.
Bret Harte picked up its first victory of the season and sent the purple and gold fans home happy with a 31-7 win over the Millennium Falcons Friday night at Dorroh Field in Angels Camp.
“When we talked to the seniors alone, they said that this is the first time that we’ve had a homecoming in three years,” Osborn said. “They really wanted to be a part of that and to have a victory and it’s really sweet for those guys.”
Bret Harte senior Ezra Radabaugh was one of those players who got to play in his first and only homecoming game. After suffering a 68-point loss to begin the week, ending the week with a homecoming victory was something that not only he, but the team and the school needed.
“It meant everything,” Radabaugh said. “We all had family coming to watch and for some of us, it’s our senior year homecoming. Everyone was watching, so it was big for me, it was big for the team, but it was also big for the school as well.”
Like Radabaugh, Sam Whitt was one of those players who had yet to experience a varsity homecoming night. And like Radabaugh, Whitt was thrilled that the Bullfrogs got to put on a quality show for those in attendance.
“Football is more than just football,” Whitt said. “It’s team and it’s family. To be able to show the people out there that your family can do this is just amazing.”
Following Bret Harte’s victory, Osborn stood in front of his 16 suited up players and he had no intention of hiding the smile on his face. Osborn has seen first-hand the work that his players have put into the program and to finally get a taste of success was exactly what he wanted for them.
“I was just really happy for the guys,” Osborn said. “We put in a lot of time and effort as coaches, but those guys are the ones who are doing the work. To come out and work every day and not get a win, it’s empty and you don’t feel whole. It’s great to see them get the reward for their hard work.”
The Bullfrogs haven’t had much good fortune during the preseason and if the opening kickoff was any indication, it seemed as if Lady Luck didn’t buy a ticket to the homecoming game. Bret Harte was set to return the kickoff, but a pooch kick by the Millennium sideline bounced around long enough to be recovered by the Falcons at the Bret Harte 37.
However, it turned out that Lady Luck did in fact buy a ticket to the game, she just showed up fashionably late. On Millennium’s first play, the Falcons fumbled the ball right back to the Bullfrogs. With the ball on their own 38, the Bullfrogs moved into Millennium territory with a 28-yard completion from senior quarterback Dylan Knick to Radabaugh.
Bret Harte got to the Falcon 15-yard line but was unable to pick up a first down. Instead of gambling on fourth down, Osborn elected to kick a field goal and Radabaugh—who is an all-league soccer player—nailed a 32-yard field goal to give the Bullfrogs an early 3-0 lead.
“It got us on the board, and we knew we scored, and we knew we weren't going to have zero points,” Radabaugh said. “It’s a snowball and we just had to get it rolling. Those early points were something that we needed.”
With 3:35 to play in the first quarter, Millennium got its only big play of the night, which was a 61-yard touchdown pass to go ahead 7-3. Radabaugh returned the ensuing kickoff all the way to the Falcon 13, but a fumble at the nine ended Bret Harte’s hopes of going back ahead.
Early in the second quarter, the Bullfrogs were able to move the ball on the ground with a 12-yard run from sophomore Karson Thomasy and an 8-yard rumble from Knick. Bret Harte capped a short 33-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run from Thomasy, which was the first of his varsity career. The score, along with a Radabaugh PAT, gave the Bullfrogs a 10-7 lead with 8:25 to play in the half.
“It was the most amazing feeling,” Thomasy said of scoring his first varsity touchdown on homecoming night. “Knowing that my linemen were blocking for me and making holes for me was really nice.”
The following possession, Tony Tenorio picked off a Millennium pass to give the Bullfrogs possession on their own 35. Bret Harte quickly moved the chains with a 20-yard pass from Knick to Radabaugh and then a 22-yard run from Alex Worth to move the ball to the Falcon 11. Radabaugh capped the 65-yard drive with an 11-yard run to put the Bullfrogs up 17-3 with 3:41 to play in the half.
Neither team scored the remainder of the half and while the Bullfrogs and Falcons rested, Bret Harte senior Aariah Fox was crowned as homecoming queen.
Bret Harte’s defense, which didn’t allow a first down until the fourth quarter, forced a three-and-out to begin the second half. After surrendering 74 points earlier in the week, the Bullfrogs played outstanding on the defensive side of the ball, which included holding the Falcons to -12 yards on the ground.
“We are starting to figure out our jobs and are starting to play smart football and I’m really happy about that,” Whitt said about the defensive performance.
Following a Millennium punt, the Bullfrogs kept the ball the rest of the quarter. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Knick’s number was called, and the quarterback powered his way for a 3-yard touchdown run to put Bret Harte up 24-3.
Bret Harte’s final score came with 3:17 to play. Knick once again connected with Radabaugh and the speedy senior raced 43 yards for the score.
“I just had to dust these guys and keep going,” Radabaugh said about what he was thinking when he caught the ball. “I just was hoping they weren’t going to grab my ankles.”
Knick finished the night 5 for 10 for 110 yards and one touchdown and 104 of those yards and the lone score went to Radabaugh. As a team, Bret Harte rushed for 171 yards on 40 carries and three scores. The Bullfrogs totaled 281 yards of offense and held the Falcons to only 78.
And while Whitt might never know what it feels like to score a touchdown, he knows what it’s like to open up a hole for one and he was thrilled that he and the rest of the line got to do that three times on homecoming night.
“I love it,” Whitt said. “Linemen don’t get a lot of praise for blocking, but when we do our jobs it’s a better feeling than scoring a touchdown.”
Bret Harte’s Henry Hicks had a game-high 50 yards rushing on 13 carries; Knick had 43 yards on 10 attempts with one score; Worth rushed for 23 yards on two carries; and Radabaugh had 11 yards and a touchdown on his only run. But it was Thomasy, who carried the ball 14 times for 44 yards (it would have been 58 yards, but a bad pitch on an option resulted in a 14-yard loss to his stat line), who really stood out to Osborn.
“He ran with conviction,” Osborn said of Thomasy. “One thing that I really like about him is that when he runs laterally to run the play, he puts his foot in the ground and plants it and then gets forward. He’s not a really big kid, but he runs hard. He ran the ball really hard tonight and he didn’t dance around in the hole. He plants his foot and gets after it.”
Bret Harte (1-3) won’t return to the gridiron until it takes on Argonaut on Sept. 30 in Jackson. With a bye week coming up, Radabaugh hopes that his team can heal up and use the momentum it gained from the homecoming victory and carry that into Mother Lode League play.
“Being able to get this big win and some momentum and also being able to heal up over this next week is going to be great,” Radabaugh said. “We are going to continue to practice and fix the mistakes that we made tonight. Having a bye definitely helps going into league.”
As for Osborn, the veteran coach knows he made the right decision to play, even if it was with only 16 players. And with much of the community watching his team pick up a convincing 24-point win, Osborn hopes that there might be some youngsters in the stands who enjoyed what they saw and that one day, they’ll want to capture their own homecoming victory.
“Coming out and having a big crowd like that and getting a win is the best recruiter that we could ask for,” Osborn said. “It looks fun when that’s taking place, and it looks fun to be a part of football. To have the student section go crazy and having a good time, and to see all the fans who came out to support us at the parade and at the rally, and now at the game was exactly what the doctor ordered.”
Bret Harte’s JV team played Central Catholic on Friday night and lost 42-0. The JV Bullfrogs are now 0-3.