Bonita Smudged 37-36 In Game for the Ages

August 24, 2012
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Bonita Pride
Bonita Pride

Football is a physically brutal game: the hellacious hitting, the hand-to-hand combat in the trenches, the torturous year-round training. But what makes this punishing ballet America’s favorite sport is the constant mental challenge it poses to players, coaches and fans. It’s the snap decisions that ultimately break a team or catapult it to victory.

On the Thursday night at Citrus College in the 40th renewal between storied rivals Bonita and San Dimas, decision-making would again determine the outcome, not the collision of shoulder pads.

After making one first down in the game’s opening offensive series, Bonita faced a fourth-and-four on its own 38. Coach Adrian Medrano signaled in his punting unit, just as he had so many times in all the rehearsals and practices leading up to the first game of the season. Then the center snap sailed over kicker Brandt Davis’ head. Scrambling for the ball, skipping precariously toward Bonita’s own goal line, Davis, one of the best kickers, if not the best kicker, in the entire valley, swatted it through the end zone. Just like that, Bonita trailed 2-0. Ironically, Davis’ first kick of the season resulted in two points for the other team. You can’t script this stuff. Right move? Wrong move? People can debate the intentional kick out of the end zone the rest of the season (Personally, I think it was the right one), but no one will question that it was a bold decision that had to be made in a split-second.

From left, captains Reggie Turner, Katie Ortega, Victor Rojas and DJ Theard walk to midfield for the coin flip.

From left, captains Joey Hubbard, Reggie Turner, Katie Ortega, Victor Rojas and DJ Theard walk to midfield for the coin flip.

Flash to the end of the game. Bonita is trailing 37-36 in one of the most thrilling Smudge Pots ever. With final minutes and precious seconds ticking, Bonita takes over at the 50-yard line after a good run back brought the ball out to the 35 before a personal foul by San Dimas advanced the ball to midfield. Bonita was in business. It could go into its two-minute offense working with just half the field. On first down, Bonita quarterback Tanner Diebold rifled a strike to outstanding receiver Victor Magallanes, taking the ball to the San Dimas 31-yard-line. On the next play, Reggie Turner churns down to the 25-yard line, moving Bonita into makeable field goal range, given the gifted foot of Davis whose accuracy rivals America’s drones.

Then Bonita elects to go upstairs on the next two plays. Diebold and Morgan Ruiz just miss hooking up on the first pass attempt. Then the Bearcats are penalized for procedure, taking the ball back to the 32. This time, Diebold slings the ball down the right sideline. It grazes the determined, outstretched fingertips of Magallanes. The timing play missed by millimeters. Davis is called in to attempt a 49-yarder, within his range, but still a long boot. The kick flutters toward the goal post but falls short. San Dimas runs out the clock, the last seconds expiring after the kicker’s fourth-down punt goes untouched by Bonita.

Decisions, decisions.

Angel Verdugo gave Bonita a big boost.

Angel Verdugo gave Bonita a big boost.

“We liked the match-ups we had,” Medrano said after the game about electing to pass rather than center the ball up for perhaps a closer field goal attempt. Magallanes already had two touchdowns.”

Magallanes, indeed, had a brilliant game, but the game hardly started brilliantly for Bonita.

After the touchback for San Dimas’ first two points, the Saints, led by quarterback Josh Avila and running back Jake Payton, rolled up 21 more consecutive points to take a 23-0 lead over Bonita with 11:51 left in the second quarter. The scoring blitz was so sudden that those Bonita fans still entering the stadium and looking up at the scoreboard wouldn’t have been faulted if they headed back through the turnstiles, jumped into their cars and grabbed a slice of pie at Marie Callender’s on the corner of Citrus and Route 66. The deep-dish dessert definitely would have been more appetizing than the 23-0 hole that Bonita was facing.

But Bonita came back. On the ropes, Diebold, Turner and teammates started to answer the early San Dimas barrage. “We weren’t about to go into the tank,” said Medrano, who had to be wondering why the football gods had thrown him such an abyss to start his Bonita coaching career. Turner rambled for 14. Then Diebold found Magallanes streaking down the left sideline for a big hook-up to the San Dimas 15. Then it was Turner time once more as he bolted into the end zone on a punishing run. For good measure, Bonita went for two points (another key decision), with Turner again doing the scoring honors.

Bonita prepares to break through the banner to officially inaugurate the 40th iinstallment of the Smudge Pot.

Bonita prepares to break through the banner to officially inaugurate the 40th iinstallment of the Smudge Pot.

Despite the score, Bonita was still looking up at a Grand Canyon-sized 23-8 deficit, made worse when San Dimas responded right back with a seven-play, 80-yard scoring drive capped by Denzel Mitchell’s gallop into the end zone. In a key decision of the drive, San Dimas coach Bill Zernickow elected to go for it on fourth and inches from the Saints’ own 30. The quarterback sneak was successful and three plays later San Dimas had another seven points, set up in large part by a long pass completion from Avila to Cody McNeal.

Bonita again didn’t wilt. Facing third and 10 on the San Dimas 38, Diebold, getting his best protection of the night, arched the ball over two defenders into the hands of Magallanes who plucked it out of the air for six points. Medrano and Tanner rolled the dice, throwing into double coverage, and the number came up six. After the extra point, Bonita halved the score, 30-15 with 4:36 left in the first half.

On the ensuing kick-off, Davis boomed the ball into the end zone, and suddenly Bonita had its swagger back. In another key play, San Dimas, facing another fourth and one, similar to its previous series, elected this time to punt the ball away, only the punter shanked it after receiving a high snap. The result was Bonita was back in business in a big way, and six plays later, the Bearcats were in the end zone once more, courtesy of an eight-yard screen pass from Diebold to Turner. After the Davis extra point, Bonita trailed 30-22, with the game suddenly taking on the appearance of the Miracle on Citrus. The pie those unfaithful were eating at Marie’s couldn’t have tasted good if any of their diehard friends still at the stadium had texted them a scoring update.

Success attracts a crowd.

Success attracts a crowd.

After the half, Bonita fans could only characterize what they saw by saying, it was a tale of two quarters. (By the way, Katie Ortega flipped the coin that landed tails, which San Dimas called correctly.) For Bonita, it had been the worst of times in the first period and best of times in the second, with momentum clearly swinging the Bearcats way.

At the half, the Bonita band and drill teams performed with perfection, and many former Bonita standouts, including KC Huth and brothers Casey and Garrett Horine, gleefully took to the field, tossing and airing out the pigskin during the intermission.

It was back to business in the second half, and Medrano’s men again stopped San Dimas after the Saints had marched to Bonita’s 29-yard line. On its first offensive series of the second half, Medrano chose to feature the running skills of Turner and AJ Greco and the aerial accuracy of Diebold once again. Twelve plays and 70 yards later, Bonita was again celebrating, triggered after Diebold threw a 17-yard scoring strike to Magallanes on a third-and-17 play. Suddenly, Bonita trailed 30-28.

Still trailing by two points early in the fourth, Bonita put together yet another scoring drive, featuring some new numbers, including Greco (No. 32) and Angel Verdugo (No. 23). Running like his feet were on fire, Verdugo plunged into the end zone, the final three yards coming all on second and third efforts. Greco ran in the two-point conversion to give Bonita a 36-30 lead, a comeback for the ages?

Tanner Diebold is not only a rambling man, but also a scrambling man.

Tanner Diebold is not only a rambling man, but a scrambling man.

Then the game turned funky, or maybe it was time for the defenses to dial it up in what to that point had been a night of offensive fireworks for both teams. First, Bonita stuffed San Dimas. Thomas Loy, Hubbard, Christian McQueen were knocking San Dimas sideways. Then it was San Dimas’ turn. Andrew Espinosa picked off a Diebold miscue to give the Saints the ball on Bonita’s 45-yard-line. After marching down to Bonita’s 15-yard line, San Dimas faced another critical fourth-and-one. Bonita stuffed a San Dimas run with a wall of defensive warriors.

Game over, not quite.

Taking over at the 15, Bonita was charged with a personal foul down field. Then Turner, who had played brilliantly and had fought cramps, fumbled. Three plays later, San Dimas scored, with Espinosa taking it home on a pitch-right sweep. After the extra point, San Dimas regained the advantage 37-36.

After all that happened — after all the hard hits, completed passes, punishing runs …and spirited play — it was decision time once again. The ballet (or bloodbath), whatever you want to call this physical gridiron game, had finally turned into a chess match – a mental match that will be dissected by football historians for years to come.


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