The game lived up to the hype.
Bloss Bowl XIV saw a capacity crowd of more than 4,000 people watch crosstown rivals Atwater and Buhach Colony slug it out in a defensive battle for four quarters.
The Thunder were able to make the final defensive stand and emerge with a 14-13 win to cap a perfect 10-0 run through the regular season and clinch sole possession of the Central California Conference championship.
“I thought it was a great rivalry game,” said Buhach Colony coach Kevin Navarra. “I think it was great for the town. Talking to (Atwater associate principal Robert) Nunes it was a great week all week. There was a lot of energy and a lot of excitement. The game lived up to the hype.
“Both teams competed hard. I don’t think I’d want it to end any other way.”
The game started off with a bang as Atwater running back Charles Jackson, who rushed for 118 yards on 14 carries, broke free for a 67-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage to give the Falcons (7-3 overall, 5-2 CCC) a 6-0 lead when their bid for a two-point conversion failed.
The Thunder answered with a physical, 11-play drive that saw BC run the ball on 10 plays. Six different Thunder players touched the ball on the drive as Nate Ruiz capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run to give BC a 7-6 lead with 5:09 left in the first half.
The Thunder opening drive set the tone for the first half as Buhach Colony pounded the ball between the tackles as they controlled the ball and took a 14-6 lead into the half after Anthony Berry tacked on a 19-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
“We had a hard time with their inside run,” said Falcons coach Seneca Ybarra. “I felt their goal was to keep our offense off the field.”
That led to Ybarra’s decision to attempt an onside kick to start the second half and the referees ruled the Falcons recovered the ball.
Atwater cashed in as Falcons quarterback Julius Peacock connected with Daniel De La Rosa for a 28-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-and-eight to cut the Thunder lead to 14-13 with 10:42 left in the third quarter.
“I felt like we needed a spark, we needed to seize some momentum,” said Ybarra, about the onside kick.
The Thunder defense stiffened up the rest of the way, turning back the Falcons on a couple occasions late in the game.
The Buhach Colony offense did just enough, keeping the ball on the down and running clock. The Thunder lost two lineman in Angelo Clements and Alejandro Rocha to injuries in the first half. They also lost receiver/defensive back Jalon Jackson to an elbow injury on the opening kickoff.
Atwater lost Peacock to a hamstring injury late in the third quarter. It was up to backup Anthony Diaz to try to engineer a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
Diaz twice drove the Falcons deep into Thunder territory in the fourth quarter. The first drive was stopped on an interception. Durging the final drive Atwater turned the ball over on downs at the BC 38 yard line with 3 seconds left.
“(Diaz) made some big plays for us,” Ybarra said. “He’s been solid all year for us, playing different positions. It’s tough coming in cold turkey like that. He did take some reps at practice. But it’s tough, you have the fastest guy on the field (Peacock) and then you don’t.”
Both teams will advance to the playoffs. The matchups will be released by the Sac-Joaquin Section on Sunday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Buhach Colony can celebrate a 10-0 season. The Thunder now won four straight Bloss Bowls and hold an all-time 10-4 advantage in the rivalry.
“This is the first time I’ve been on a winning team like this,” Berry said. “Man, I’m hyped right now. This means a lot to us, the school, and the city of Atwater.”