Mountain Football was the epitome of resiliency in the regular season finale, scrapping and clawing their way to a share of the South Yosemite League crown in a thrilling 27-21 victory over West.
It is the second-straight league championship for Tehachapi (5-5; 4-1 SYL), sharing the title with Independence and Ridgeview. All three teams finished the league season with 4-1 records.
Fittingly, in championship-clinching fashion, the game was won in the final seconds. With the Warriors clinging on to a narrow six-point lead with less than a minute in the game, West pushed for one last surge, getting as far as the Tehachapi six-yard line and a potential game tying touchdown.
Everyone knew who West (5-4; 2-3 SYL) was trying to get the ball to, standout wideout Donta Mason, one of Kern County’s best football players with 1,192 all-purpose yards and 11 touchdowns in his previous eight games.
However, Connor Timm and the Warrior defense would not be denied.
Timm was a virtual cover blanket on three-straight plays, batting the ball on two pass deflections intended for Mason in the endzone before recording a game-winning interception near the goal line to secure the victory.
“Connor stayed with his guy and played the situation exactly how he was supposed to,” said head coach Doug DeGeer. “It was a pressure-packed situation and he executed. You could not ask anything more from him, the entire team.”
The Warriors had to come back from a two-touchdown deficit early on, with West scoring a pair of touchdowns on their first two drives, the first on a 33-yard run by Mason and the second a 12-yard run by Joseph Maya.
However, two costly turnovers gave Tehachapi new life, with Trevor Medovitch and Dominic Counihan both recording interceptions to set up game-tying scoring drives in the second quarter.
Chris Garcia scored first on a one-yard quarterback bootleg and Timm scored a four-yard touchdown on each respective drive. Both scores were punched in on fourth and goal plays in the second quarter.
Dylan Ragsdale and Medovitch both connected on the point after attempts to tie the score at 14-14 heading into halftime.
“The thought of losing never crossed our mind. We just wanted to keep fighting,” Ragsdale said. “We have full confidence in each other, this team and what we can do.”
Maya was able to help West re-take the lead in the third quarter with a 10-yard touchdown run, but the rest of the game belonged to the Warriors.
Tehachapi tied the game on a 30-yard touchdown reception by Luke Soto from Garcia midway through the fourth quarter, then Garrett Curry powered his way through the line of scrimmage for the game winning touchdown with just under two minutes remaining in the game, on fourth and goal, no less.
The winning score was set up off a Noah Howell fumble recovery off a punt block, giving Tehachapi short field position.
Defensively, Patrick Grimes, Ragsdale and Soto all led the team with nine tackles apiece, followed by Counihan (eight tackles), Sean Schulgen (seven tackles), Howell (seven tackles), Favian Garcia (six tackles), Rory Bishop (five tackles), Mason Kiernan (four tackles) and Peyton Stowers (four tackles). Kiernan and Favian Garcia also had sacks.
On offense, Hayden Palmer paced the ground game with 77 yards on 14 carries. Timm followed suit with 64 yards rushing on 13 carries, a reception for 16 yards and Curry with 48 yards on 12 carries. Chris Garcia also had 28 yards rushing and two completions for 46 yards and the touchdown pass to Soto.
By finishing as the SYL champions, the Warriors earned the No. 5 seed in the CIF Division-III playoffs and will face off against No. 12 seed and SEYL co-champion South-Bakersfield at Coy Burnett Field this Thursday evening. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m.
“We have our momentum going, rolling forward and peaking at the right time,” added DeGeer. “We are confident right now but we know South will be a tough opponent. Hopefully it will be chilly on the mountain.”
Without a doubt, the resilient Warriors will be ready.
“It is a dream for us to be where we are right now, in the playoffs competing for a CIF title,” added Ragsdale.