PREP FOOTBALL: Bear River edges Sutter, remains unbeaten
Special to The Union
Score by Quarter
S: Tyler Reynolds 13-yard pass from Clay Carter (2:51) Nick Schenken kick
BR: Ben O’Lena 57-yard pass from Jason Voter (3:48) PAT blocked
BR: Hollister 17-yard pass from Voter, fumbled and recovered by O’Lena (1:14) 2pt conversion good
S: Isaac Torres 25-yard pass from Reynolds (5:50) Schenken kick
BR: O’Lena 64-yard pass from Voter (3:56) O’Lena kick
Midway through the 2015 regular season the Bear River football Bruins remain unscathed at 5-0 with their most impressive and recent victory coming Friday, homecoming night, against Sutter.
Bear River’s 21-14 victory was about as thrilling as a fan could ask for, and perhaps as gut-wrenching for a coach. In a see-saw battle between Northern California elites, Friday night’s contest had all the feel of a playoff game and spared no suspense.
“I’m very, very pleased with the way my kids battled,” said Bruins co-head coach Scott Savoie. “I kind of felt like it was a playoff game the whole night. I felt it before the game. What a great atmosphere we had. To win games of the gravity of this one and the one last week against Escalon I think just speaks volumes about our kids.”
Both teams were forced to punt on their first possession, but on their second possession, the visiting Huskies managed to work a drive down to the Bruins’ 13-yard line and set up fourth-and-6.
Sutter lined up for what would have been about a 30-yard field goal, but before the snap, the Huskies offensive line split out wide, leaving all but the center up front, with the holder and the kicker in the backfield. When the ball was snapped Bear River quickly got to the quarterback as expected, but the ball had already been lobbed high to the back corner of the end zone, a rainbow pass that eventually came down into the arms of a receiver to give Sutter a 7-0 lead.
“I’m disappointed on the trick play, the first one that we got out of sync on,” said Bear River co-head coach Terry Logue. “Seven points were on the board that should have never been there, but overall the defense played tremendous, a couple of big-time stops for us and they had a big-time stop. We made them punt three or four times in a row, got the ball back just in time to win the game. “
That wasn’t the only trickery that Sutter had up its sleeve. Bear River dodged a bullet on the last play of the first half. With the Bruins leading 14-7, Sutter executed a double-pass and got down inside the Bruins’ 10-yard line before being knocked out of bounds as time expired.
Game-changing defensive stands
Sutter missed a 37-yard field goal wide left early in the second quarter, a drive that the Bruins put a stop to on their own 20-yard line. After another exchange of punts Bear River got the ball back at Sutter’s 43-yard line with just under four minutes to play in the first half. Up until that point, the Bruins’ offense had only made two first downs trying to run the ball.
Unlike its first three possessions, Bear River began this possession with a passing play. Quarterback Jason Voter dropped back behind some solid blocking, bought a little extra time with his legs and heaved up a bomb to Ben O’Lena, who hauled it in and raced down the sideline for a 57-yard score. The PAT was blocked so it appeared as though the Bruins would head into the locker room trailing 7-6.
“I’ve been working out every day after practice with my quarterback getting our timing down,” said O’Lena, who grabbed four catches for 164 yards and scored all three Bruin touchdowns. “It’s just heart. We just want it. We want every game. We want to take it all the way this year and we’re ready to go. If we keep doing what we’re doing I don’t see why we can’t go undefeated the whole season.”
However, Sutter rolled the dice on its next possession, going for it on fourth-and-1 from its own 29-yard line with under two minutes to play, a decision it would quickly regret.
“We went for it on fourth down earlier and they stuffed us,” explained Logue. “It’s part of football. Sometimes as a coach you feel you can do it, you can make it, if you don’t make it you’re the goat, but that was a big play. That gave us the ball in great field position. We got a touchdown.”
Bear River’s Ryan Tantum came up with the play, stuffing the Huskies’ Jacob Gildea. In the end, the gamble would cost Sutter the lead. Two plays later Voter hit tight end receiver Connor Hollister, who smashed his way up to the 2-yard line, but fumbled. O’Lena pounced on the loose ball in the end zone to put the Bruins on top, 14-7.
The big play
After being stuffed four times at the Huskies’ 1-yard line nearing the end of the third quarter, Bear River’s defense won the field position battle for the remainder of the game. With the game knotted 14-14, five punts were exchanged, but Sutter finally managed to flip the field with its last punt, setting the Bruins up first-and-10 from their own 36.
Again, with little success running the ball through the trenches, Bear River opted to open the drive with a passing play. With just over four minutes to play Voter, who finished 9-for-12 for 203 yards with two touchdowns, dialed up and connected with O’Lena, who slipped by a defender and was off to the races up the sideline for a 64-yard touchdown.
“I gotta say I can’t even take credit for our last throw,” added Savoie. “Jason Voter was bugging me all night… ‘Hey coach we gotta try this, hey coach we gotta try this.’ I finally turn around and go, ‘What is it you wanna try?’ and he told me what he wanted to try and I said, ‘Ok let’s go do it.’ That was the touchdown. Seventeen-year-old kid, sometimes coaches have to just shut up and listen. That was pretty awesome.”
The 64-yard reception was O’Lena’s second receiving score and third touchdown of the night. Returning from injury this week and not exposed in much game film, he proved to be a huge piece to the puzzle, one that Sutter didn’t see coming.
“O’Lena didn’t play last week because of his ankle injury and he was more than eager to get back out there,” explained Voter. “All practice he was jumping over people like we’ve seen him do so many times and he’s back to 100-percent himself and that helped us so much. They didn’t see him coming. They didn’t know we had that and (I’m) so proud we could show them that we did. When they stopped everything else, we still had one more thing to pull out of our bag.”
O’Lena is what some might call a “special talent.” Adopting the game only last year, he’s come a long way proving he has the potential to be a game-changing weapon.
“Ben is a tremendous talent,” complimented Logue. “When he came out last year, after about four weeks I told him, ‘You have a chance to be a great receiver for us.’ Because he just had natural instincts. For a guy that never played football until last year he’s phenomenal.”
Closing it out
Back on top 21-14 with now under minutes to play, the game was far from over for Bear River.
The Huskies drove 60 yards down the field to the Bruins’ 15 -yard line, but that’s where their luck ran out. Bear River tightened up and forced Sutter into a fourth-and-6 pass, which was broken up by Hollister and David O’Brien.
Pioneer Valley League debut
Looking ahead Bear River now enters Pioneer Valley League play where it will face three opponents on the road (Foothill, Center, Lincoln) and two at home (Colfax, Placer). The Bruins begin the second half of the season with their PVL opener Friday at Foothill.
Brian Shepard is a freelance sports writer who contributes to The Union regularly.
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