Golden Valley High School football coach Dennis Stubbs couldn’t help but lament what might have been.
The Cougars have proven themselves adept at fighting back into contests with the top teams in the Central California Conference. Stubbs just wishes his squad could avoid the slow starts that have led to those first-quarter holes. Comebacks take their toll physically and mentally and leave little margin for error the rest of the way.
The familiar scenario played itself out again at Veterans Stadium on Friday night as Golden Valley erased a 14-point halftime deficit just to have the few mistakes it made in the second half prove the difference in a 35-21 loss to Pitman. The win, coupled with Merced’s loss, means there will be a new CCC champ, decided in the Harvest Bowl on Nov. 4.
“It’s the same story all over again,” Stubbs said. “We’re just disappointed in the start. We had a great week of practice coming in and felt prepared. I don’t know if it was jitters or what, but we couldn’t get lined up straight in the first quarter. We finally got together and settled in and were able to play ball the rest of the way, but it’s after spotting them a two-touchdown lead.”
The Pride (9-0, 5-0 CCC) were a model of offensive precision on their first two possessions. Pitman ran 15 plays, all for positive yards, to start the game. A Devan Bass (15 carries, 157 yards) 10-yard touchdown run and Kamio Borja 27-yard TD catch made it 14-0 one play into the second quarter.
The Golden Valley (5-4, 1-4 CCC) defense settled in and managed to get some second-quarter stops. One handed Golden Valley a short field, which Armando Muzquiz cashed in with a 20-yard scramble to trim the lead to 14-7. Bass answered three plays later with a 35-yard TD run.
Golden Valley had a chance to close the lead right before halftime, but Isaiah Montanez was brought down at the Pitman 4-yard line with nine seconds left. The Cougars, who were out of timeouts, couldn’t line up in time to run another play. The potential lost points would prove costly.
“That’s another story of our season,” Stubbs said. “We’ve left a lot of points on the field. That’s a chance to grab some momentum right before the half. We had a couple opportunities at the end zone and just couldn’t make a play.”
The Cougars had no such issues in a dominant third quarter. Golden Valley got a big defensive stand to start the second half as AJ De La Riva missed a 35-yard field goal try. Stubbs’ squad answered with back-to-back scoring drives.
Muzquiz (19 of 27 passing for 233 yards) found Christian Dominguez for a 9-yard TD strike and then connected with Cadrian McDaniel (9 catches, 120 yards) on a 34-yard touchdown pass to tie the score 21-21 on the opening play of the fourth quarter.
“I’m not going to lie, I thought we were going to win once we got it tied up,” McDaniel said. “I thought the offense was just going to keep rolling through them and we’d get enough defensive stops. Just too many little mistakes when it mattered most.”
After running just 11 plays in the third quarter, Pitman responded with a 13-play drive to regain the lead. Starting at their 25, the Pride methodically moved the chains and marched down the field. Brandon Pacheco punched in a 4-yard touchdown run to put Pitman in front for good with 6:02 left.
The Cougars still had plenty of time to mount one final comeback attempt, but Muzquiz was intercepted by Brendan Patterson two plays later. The senior safety returned it 37 yards for a score to put away the game.
The Cougars remain one victory away from locking up their first playoff appearance since 2006. They’ll have to do it against rival Merced in the Mayor’s Cup. The Bears have won 10 straight meetings.
“Words can’t explain how much making the playoffs would mean to us seniors,” McDaniel said. “We’ve worked hard the last four years to get the program back to where it is. We’re just hoping for at least one playoff game.”