No one knows the ebb and flow of talent that comes through small-town schools better than Alex Pittz.
It’s why his Chowchilla football team’s consistent competitiveness is such a source of pride for both his staff and the town. Natural athletic ability isn’t something anyone can control, so the Redskins focus on what they can.
Things like effort, hustle, attention to detail and football acumen are areas where Pittz’s squads routinely tend to distinguish themselves. Those intangibles are why when he has a run of talent like the school has enjoyed the last couple years, the seasons go from simply good to something special.
At a school that expects to compete for Valley championships every year, Pittz faced higher expectations than ever before on the heels off a loss in the 2015 CIF Division IV-A title game. His squad embraced the challenge, reaching the Central Section Division IV title game for a second consecutive year. Chowchilla came up empty in its title defense with a 39-7 loss to Selma, but still was the area’s only 10-win team on the season, helping Pittz repeat as the Sun-Star’s Coach of the Year.
“I think the expectations are permanently raised after last season,” Pittz said. “That’s a good thing. It used to be all about playing for Valley championships. Now, the way it sets up, if you win a section title, you have a chance of playing for a state title. We were hoping to get back to the state championship game, but we ran into a very good Selma team and fell short of our goals. It was still a remarkable season.
“Every year you’re going to lose guys that are almost impossible to replace, especially at a small school. Talent tends to come in waves and that’s why being consistent year in and year out is so important to us. We want to go out and be as competitive as much as possible, develop men of character and play with a brand of toughness that people remember.”
Nowhere was that approach more on display than perhaps the most memorable game in Redskins history.
Chowchilla’s 26-24 semifinal victory over Golden West is a game that will forever be linked with Chowchilla lore. Staked to a 10-point lead with 2:30 to play, the Redskins looked poised for a second consecutive trip to the D-IV title game when the Trailblazers pieced together an improbable comeback.
GW quarterback Peyton West completed a 5-yard touchdown pass with 2:21 to play and the Trailblazers recovered the ensuing onside kick. Four plays later, Golden West led for the first time as Robert Ortega hauled in a 44-yard touchdown catch on a fourth-down pass.
It was an epic collapse from a defense that had been so stout all season, but Pittz’s calm and confident demeanor on the sideline prevented his team from losing hope. With just 1:11 to play, the Redskins marched 74 yards to earn one final play with 1 second on the clock.
The intended play broke down immediately because of GW’s pass rush, but the Chowchilla players improvised as Cody Woolsey dumped a pass off to Damon Perry in the flat at the 10-yard line. Perry sprinted into the middle of the field and lateraled just as the defense collapsed on him around the 6.
Ronnie Reyes was the guy next to Perry, and the senior broke two tackles before dragging a defender across the goal line for an unforgettable victory.
“Kids see right through hypocrisy,” Pittz said. “If you’re out asking them to give their all and put in work every day, they need to see you doing that, too. There’s no better way to coach than by example. If kids see you calm and confident in those tough situations, they’re going to respond in kind.
“I had no way of knowing that the game was going to end like that, but I never lost faith we’d find a way to pull it out.”