The goal when Seneca Ybarra took over the Atwater High football program three years ago was to get his players to the point that they could play in the big games with the top teams in the Central California Conference.
The focus was on getting bigger, stronger and faster in the weight room.
The Falcons’ 42-39 win over Merced (4-5, 3-2 CCC) on Friday night in the 50th Santa Fe Bowl proved they can play with the big boys.
Atwater snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Bears and set up a huge matchup next week with a piece of the CCC championship on the line in the Bloss Bowl against undefeated Buhach Colony.
“We played against a storied program with championship caliber coaches,” said Ybarra, whose team improved to 7-2 overall and 4-1 in the CCC. “It’s been a long time since we beat them and they weren’t just going to give it to us. We had to earn this. I’m excited for our program. These last two weeks have been a blast.”
It’s been a long time since the Falcons football program has been in the spotlight and they celebrated their big win.
After finishing his television interview, Ybarra was showered with ice from players. Other players embraced.
For the first time since 2009, the Falcons had defeated the Bears.
“It’s crazy,” said junior Daniel De LaRosa, who delivered some big plays in the win. “Our crowd was so loud. Everyone was cheering us on. Our sideline was pumped. We knew we were facing a good team.”
The Falcons got enough big plays from their offense as quarterback Julius Peacock delivered a 72-yard touchdown run that gave the Falcons a 35-26 lead with 3:21 left in the third quarter.
Peacock also connected on a 24-yard touchdown pass to De La Rosa that gave the Falcons a 42-33 lead with 8:05 left in the game.
Charles Jackson added two touchdown runs.
“We’ve been pretty explosive on offense this season,” Ybarra said. “We’ve had Charles and Julius. We’re doing all this without Nate Knight (broken ankle). It’s crazy we’ve been able to score this many points without him.
“Julius makes it go. You saw that tonight. He keeps getting better every week.”
De La Rosa also delivered a big 93-yard kickoff return for a score that helped Atwater regain the lead at 28-26 with 4:54 left in the third quarter after the Bears had taken a 26-21 lead after Desmond Thompson scored his second of three touchdowns.
“I knew I had to go right,” De La Rosa said. “I broke one tackle and I thought I was going to go down. I stayed up and I knew I was gone after that.”
Next up for Atwater is a shot at a CCC championship against Buhach Colony.
“It means everything to us,” Peacock said. “It’s a better seed in the playoffs. We’re playing for the CCC. It’s been a while since we’ve beaten Buhach Colony.”
For now, the Falcons are going to savor Friday night’s big win.
“I’m excited right now,” Ybarra said. “I’m not going to sleep.”