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CIF-SS DIV. 10 FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS : Gahr gets down early, falls short in second half rally against Dos Pueblos

PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer Photo caption: Gahr senior running back Micah Bernard tries to escape the grasp of Dos Pueblos' Dillon Roberts (#11) in last Friday night's California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 10 quarterfinal game. Bernard scored twice but was held to a season-low 102 yards in the 35-28 loss. Gahr finishes the season at 8-4.

Gahr senior running back Micah Bernard tries to escape the grasp of Dos Pueblos’ Dillon Roberts (#11) in last Friday night’s California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 10 quarterfinal game. Bernard scored twice but was held to a season-low 102 yards in the 35-28 loss. Gahr finishes the season at 8-4. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

If only the Gahr High football team played the first half with the same intensity it did in the second half against Dos Pueblos High, its season would probably still be going. But the Gladiators saw exactly why the Chargers had not given up more than 19 points in any of their past seven games.

The vaunted Dos Pueblos defense held junior running back Micah Bernard to a season-low 102 yards on 20 carries and its offense built a 28-0 lead through the first 26:36 and held on for a 35-28 win last Friday night in a California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 10 quarterfinal game at Hanford Rants Stadium. Gahr, the seventh ranked team in the division, ends its season at 8-4.

“We came out flat and they came out and got on us,” said Gahr head coach Greg Marshall. “Really, we should have had that first half at 14-0, which would have been more manageable. But we made a mistake on a punt, then again, the pass…kills us every single time. We’re unable to play the pass this year.”

Dos Pueblos quarterback Jake Ramirez was nine of 15 for 136 yards but probably his biggest completion was a 36-yard touchdown pass to Cyrus Wallace on third and eight to put an end to the first drive of the second half. That put the Chargers up 28-0 with 9:24 left in the third quarter.

Despite Gahr’s miraculous rally over the final 21:24, the story of the game was the first half when the Chargers shut down Gahr’s offense, including Bernard. The Chargers defense sacked Gahr senior quarterback E.J. Gonzalez once, picked him off once, deflected another pass on a third down play, held Bernard to negative yardage on four first half carries and tackled junior punter Carlos Sandoval for a four-yard loss on a fake punt attempt. That would lead to 13-yard touchdown run from Eric Lopez with 5:34 left in the first half that made it 14-0.

By halftime, the Gladiators had 78 yards of total offense and had crossed midfield once, which came when Bernard busted loose for a 44-yard run down the left sideline. But on the next play, Gonzalez was intercepted by Alijah Grant.

If the Dos Pueblos defense wasn’t bad enough, its offense, led by Rob Alfaro, Lopez and Ramirez were pounding the ball for extra yardage on nearly every carry they would get, thanks to the offensive line pushing them forward. What should have been three or four-yard gains turned into eight or nine yards. Alfaro, the team’s third leading rusher picked up 105 yards on 27 carries. The rest of the team combined for 86 yards on 15 touches.

“That’s a big offensive line and they were foot to foot,” Marshall said of Dos Pueblos. “Even though we were there, they were just moving us, and they did. That’s a big line; bigger than anything we’ve seen in the [San Gabriel Valley League] this year. Those guys are for real. They just weren’t big high school kids. Those kids are playing at the next level.”

The Gladiators got the break they needed when the fifth punt of the night bounced off the leg of a Chargers player and was recovered by Gahr. Three plays later, Gonzalez tossed a 40-yard pass to senior wide receiver Jake Frechette with 7:33 left in the third quarter. Then after the Chargers were held on downs for the first time, a 39-yard reception from senior wide receiver Justan Lucas led to a 30-yard touchdown run from Bernard with 2:23 left in the stanza. That, plus the 44-yard gain, would be the only two times Bernard gained more than nine yards on any attempt. He would also add a one-yard score with 5:22 remaining in the game to make it 35-21. He ends the season with over 2,400 yards on the ground, which is believed to be a school record for a single season. It’s easily the most yards gained by a running back during Marshall’s 15 years as Gahr’s head coach.

“There are two things,” Marshall said of Bernard. “Number one, we were running out of time [in the second half], so we couldn’t stay with the plan. When our offensive line figured out we could do this, we couldn’t do that. We had to just throw it. I think he could have had his norm, but we got down two scores and you can’t do what we normally do.

“But our offensive line in the second half was okay,” he continued. “In the first half they just weren’t playing very well.”

Gahr’s defense forced its second three and out in the contest and when the snap to punter Jesse Mollkoy went above his head, the hosts got the ball at the Dos Pueblos 28-yard line. Two plays later, Gonzalez threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Frechette to make it a one-possession game with 2:28 left to play. The Gladiators would get the ball back with 37 seconds left but had to go 95 yards for the tie.

After a pass interference call on the Chargers, a 14-yard reception to Frechette and a nine-yard reception to senior wide receiver Dejon Hankins, plus a few incomplete passes to stop the clock, Gonzalez had one last chance for the tying score. But he was picked off by Grant at the nine-yard line on the final play of the game.

Gonzalez was nine of 21 for 190 yards with Frechette catching three for 77 yards. Bernard also caught two passes for 45 yards, but the big story was the rushing game, which had averaged over 255 yards a game. Against the Chargers, Gahr was held to 110 yards on 34 carries.

“We’ve faced that before, but we weren’t blocking,” Marshall said of his rushing protection. “We just weren’t getting off the ball. Micah will make the one guy miss; there would be one guy who we can’t block. We can make that one miss, but tonight in the first half, we just weren’t doing it.”

Gahr advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2007 and was making its fourth playoff appearance in the past 11 seasons. The Gladiators will have a lot of replacing to do for next season, especially on offense as only Bernard and junior wide receivers Michael Childress and Nathan Rhodes are the lone players who got significant numbers. Gahr had 25 seniors on this season’s team.

“It went pretty much as planned, other than losing to Millikan,” Marshall said of the season “I thought we played very well against Paramount. We just didn’t execute. Downey was kind of a weird one because we didn’t have a quarterback, we had five starters out and at half, we were [about to go] up 28-21 and we gave up a touchdown on the pass at the end of the half. Then they came back out [in the second half], they scored and we didn’t.”