In their 41st renewal, the Bonita Bearcats smudged, smushed and smashed the San Dimas Saints behind Tanner “Sunshine” Diebold’s three touchdown passes and Jake Payton’s 144 yards, including a 92-yard touchdown gallop.
Indeed, Bonita burned brighter and hotter than a smudge pot to start the game and rarely looked back. On the fourth play in the first quarter, Diebold looped a swing pass to Thomas Loy who sprinted 46 yards down the southern sideline to give Bonita an early 6-0 lead.
Then while fans were still untwisting the ties to their bags of kettle corn, Bonita linebacker Noah Montoya made a monster hit on a San Dimas running back, separating him from the ball before Jacob Karim swooped in and scooped up the loose pigskin, returning it 51 yards with 10:30 still left in the first quarter.
“We started early,” said head coach Adrian Medrano. “Our first series we scored and then we did a swoop and score on defense.”
The only thing that wasn’t working for Bonita was its kicking game. It missed both extra point tries.
Bonita, however, got those two points courtesy of a safety to make the score 14-0 at the end of the first quarter.
On its first series of the second quarter Bonita was back in business as Diebold floated a pass to a streaking Danny Gelalich for a 57-yard touchdown reception with 11:42 remaining in the period. Again Bonita failed to punch it in for the extra point.
Then at the 7:46 marker, Payton, the former San Dimas star who became eligible to play for Bonita earlier that day, zigged and zagged his way down the field for a 92-yard run, showing Bonita’s ability to move the ball on the ground as well as through the air.
After the score, Bonita led 26-0.
Bonita couldn’t stand all the success, however, and got sloppy with the ball late in the first half. San Dimas’ Joseph Mayorga, picked off a tipped pass at the Saints’ 46. Two plays later San Dimas was in the end zone on a 20-yard run by Fausto Martinez to close the gap to 26-6 at the half.
The Saints’ momentum carried over into the second half. After an Eric Ware interception, Martinez again found the end zone after a 22-yard run. Suddenly, San Dimas trailed by less than two scores, reviving hints of its amazing 37-36 comeback victory in the 40th Smudge Pot.
“I thought we let off the gas a little,” Medrano said. “I thought we got a little too comfortable and let San Dimas back in it. They’re a well-coached team, they’re a tough team, they do everything right over there, so you can’t give those guys an edge.”
Although Bonita was shut out in the third quarter, the Bearcats crushed any San Dimas comeback hopes, when a scrambling and improvising Diebold hooked up with Christian Ramos for a 7-yard score, extending Bonita’s lead with the extra point, its only one on the night, to 33-13 with 5:04 left in the game.
As sharp as Bonita’s offense was, sans the two interceptions, Bonita’s defense was terrific, led by Ed Ostashay, Loy, Karim, Cruz Garibay, Montoya and an insanely fired-up Christian McQueen, who snuffed several San Dimas rallies with clutch tackles in the Saints’ backfield.
“He’s a special player with a special attitude and the kind of kid you want to be around,” Medrano said about No. 62.
Perhaps, no one on the team or in the stands, outside of coach Medrano, knew quite how the Payton saga would unfold.
“Jacob would be the first person to say this, that it’s not about him, it’s about this team,” Medrano said. “We’re excited to have him and he’s excited to be here. He has a very selfless attitude. He’s very level-headed.
“Our players accepted him. My players came over to me and said if he’s eligible let’s have him play.”
And play he did, as did all the Bearcats on a warm, muggy night that oozed football out of every sweaty pore.
Before the game, the Marines, as part of its Great American Rivalry Series, honored Bonita’s Karim and San Dimas’ Jonah Phipps as outstanding scholar athletes. At half time, the Marines also inducted long-time Bonita coach Eric Podley and star San Dimas running back Nico Barbone into its Great American Rivalry Series hall of fame.
More photos to follow in a while.