GARDEN VALLEY -- The weather didn't play much of a factor on Friday night until the game's most decisive play.
There was a steady drizzle at Golden Sierra High for a good portion of the evening, resulting in some slips, some errant throws and a few dropped and quickly recovered punts.
But nothing that made a major impact on the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 semifinal between Golden Sierra and Le Grand.
All that changed with less than a minute left on the clock.
A wild rally in the last three minutes gave the Grizzlies a shot at a game-winning 43-yard field goal with just under a minute to play. Golden Sierra never got its chance as the wet ball shot right through the hands of holder Adam Sewell. The Grizzlies running back tried to salvage the play, but was tackled shy of the sticks, turning the ball over on downs.
Le Grand took a knee and breathed a sigh of relief as it secured a fourth straight trip to the section title game with a 24-22 victory.
The Bulldogs will face Southern League co-champ Waterford at the Grape Bowl next Saturday.
"That was a heck of a game, you have to give Golden Sierra credit," Le Grand head coach Rick Martinez said. "It's tough for anyone to come out on the losing end in a game like that, but from a football fan's perspective, we put on a show."
Le Grand appeared to have the game in hand with 3:31 to play on a Ryan Martinez (27 carries for 175 yards) 5-yard TD run. That came on the heels of a Christian Williams 69-yard touchdown catch as the Bulldogs (10-2) took over with a dominant second half.
Martinez's TD run was costly, however, as starting right guard Martin Zaragoza was injured with a likely broken leg on the play. Any momentum LG had disappeared during a 25-minute delay while Zaragoza was taken of the field in an ambulance. It give Golden Sierra a chance to regroup. And regroup they did.
A bad snap cost Le Grand the extra point and the Grizzlies' Gracen Christensen returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards right down the middle of the field for a touchdown that cut the lead to 24-22.
A series of penalties and a fumbled pitch cost Le Grand any hope of running out the clock handing Golden Sierra (7-4) the ball back with 2:51 to play.
A couple first down tosses and a pass interference call quickly moved the Grizzlies into Le Grand territory. Dominic Chamberlain hauled in a 16-yard reception with 1:33 to play, moving GS into field goal range at the Le Grand 18-yard line.
The Bulldogs defense responded with its biggest play of the night on the next play as Antonio Garcia and Christopher Miranda converged on quarterback Bryson Campbell for a huge sack.
Campbell spiked the ball and another incomplete pass forced the long field goal try.
"It's kind of part of being a young team," Ryan Martinez said. "We were way high after the touchdown, but the injury brought us back down. The kick return brought us really down.
"Juan (Gomez), (Dustin) Slate and I just needed to rally everybody up and calm them back down."
Golden Sierra led for most of the game, marching 80 yards on its opening drive. Sewell (17-86) punched it in from 7 out and a two-point conversion made it 8-0.
Contreras found Williams (4 catches 96 yards and 2 TDs) for a 5-yard TD pass to trim the lead to 8-7.
It looked like the score would remain that way heading into halftime when Campbell broke free for a 60-yard touchdown run with 1:30 left in the half to put Golden Sierra up 15-7 at intermission. The Grizzlies 200 total yards in the first half, 165 of it on the ground.
The second half was a very different story. The LG defense imposed its will, limiting the Grizzlies to just 34 rushing yards in the second half.
Chowchilla 34, Coalinga 19
COALINGA -- DeVaughn Gaines rushed for 141 yards and three-first-half touchdowns as No. 5 Chowchilla upset No. 4 Coalinga on the road in a Central Section Division 4 quarterfinal. Troy Uphoff and Dustin Gaither added TD runs for the Redskins (9-3) in the win.
Le Grand just misses on a touchdown. (Sean Lynch)
LeGrand's Mauricio Contreras hits Christian Williams for a touchdown. (Sean Lynch)
Le Grand's Christian Williams picks up yardage on a punt return. (Sean Lynch)