PREP FOOTBALL: Bear River falls to Lincoln, rides 3-game skid into playoffs
Special to The Union
FIGHTING ZEBRAS 49, BRUINS 35
L: Elijah Cunningham 1-yard run (8:22) Julian Diaz kick
L: Caleb Kettlehut 24-yard pass from Elijah Garcia 24 (4:02) Diaz kick
BR: Toran Maronic 37-yard pass from Jason Voter (1:39) Voter kick
L: Cunningham 12-yard pass from Garcia (9:19) Diaz kick
BR: Dave Mastrella 4-yard run (1:30) PAT blocked
L: PJ Manley 13-yard pass from Garcia (:09) Diaz kick
BR: Dave Mastrella 95-yard kick return (11:45) 2-pt try no good
L: Cunningham 14 yard pass from Garcia (9:54) Diaz kick
L: Ryan Graham 9-yard run (6:09) Diaz kick
BR: Mastrella 9-yard run (1:27) 2pt conversion good
L: Graham 13-yard run (10:31) Diaz kick
BR: Connor Hollister 16-yard pass from Voter (3:08) 2pt conversion good
After roaring out of the gates and stuffing opponents to begin the season 7-0, the Bear River football team has now suffered three straight Pioneer Valley League losses.
Things didn’t get any easier for the Bruins Saturday as they found out they would start the Sac-Joaquin Section D-V playoffs on the road.
“It’s the playoffs and there’s no bad teams in there,” said Bruins’ co-head coach Terry Logue. “We’re going to be on the road probably traveling a long way, but that’s the way it goes.”
Bear River (7-3, 2-3 PVL) drew the No. seed 6 and will travel to take on No. seed 3 Ripon at 7 p.m. Friday. The news comes as no surprise since the Bruins struggled down the stretch closing out the regular season to finish fourth in the PVL behind Placer, Lincoln and Center, respectively.
The Ripon Indians (6-4, 4-1 Trans Valley League) should prove to be a stiff test for the Bruins. The Indians won a share of their league title and also knocked off Sutter 28-3 earlier this season, a common opponent which Bear River also beat.
Friday night’s 49-35 defeat at Lincoln was a must-win for Bear River to keep any hopes alive for possibly hosting a playoff game. Instead, it was the Fighting Zebras who stole the show and locked up their own playoff bid, piling up more yardage and points than the Bruins have allowed all season.
“I felt like offensively we played pretty well,” said Bruins co-head coach Scott Savoie. “It’s not very often you score 35 and lose. The Bruins got to bounce back next week.”
Now that the destination is set, the Bruins’ playoff journey begins today on the practice field where it will look to pick up the pieces and try to reassemble its winning ways. Having to battle the injury bug and overcome turnovers has been a thorn in the Bruins’ side for a fair portion of the season, and things certainly aren’t going to get any easier now.
“We’re looking forward to going into the playoffs and playing some schools our own size for a change,” added Logue. “It’s just hard to overcome the loss of four starters you know. It’s hard, but our kids played hard. David Mastrella had a phenomenal game, both sides of the ball, special teams, what an outstanding effort by him. We’re pulling kids up (from JV). They’re going to help us in practice and they’re going to get a great experience.”
Behind a solid Bear River offensive front line, Mastrella has been one of the few remaining bright spots for the Bruins’ offense in the final stretch of the season. The senior running back kept Bear River within striking distance versus Lincoln, rising to the call in all facets of the game. He rushed for 54 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns. On special teams, he returned a kickoff 95 yards for a score, and on defense he nabbed an interception and returned it inside the red zone where his team would score on the very next play.
The Bruins also got a boost from senior quarterback Jason Voter, who threw 9-for-21 for 159 yards with two touchdowns, but also had two interceptions during desperate times in a late comeback effort. One of those interceptions came on a pass that was simultaneously caught inside the Zebra’s five yard-line and eventually wrestled away by a Lincoln defender. A few costly Bruins penalties also kept Zebra drives alive for eventual scores.
Senior Connor Hollister also stepped up huge for Bear River Friday night, hauling in three catches for 56 yards and a touchdown as he tried to fill the shoes of an absent Ben O’Lena. Junior Toran Maronic also grabbed a 37-yard touchdown from Voter early in the game to get the Bruins on the board.
Up until Friday night, Bear River’s defense had been consistent and had enabled the team to stay in games. Yet, Lincoln’s offense proved to be too much. At times the Zebras couldn’t move the ball through the trenches they opted to attack through the air even with a two-score lead well into the second half.
Lincoln racked up 536 yards of total offense with 334 of it coming through the air off the arm of senior quarterback Elijah Garcia, who tossed four touchdown passes. The Zebra offense gained an impressive 33 first downs, far surpassing the Bruins’ 15.
Lincoln (6-4, 3-2 PVL) had a lot more at stake, needing to win just to assure itself a playoff spot, and its play on the field definitely showed it. The Zebras’ victory also earned them second place in the PVL and drew the squad the No. 14 seed in the D-III bracket. Lincoln will be on the road, traveling to battle No. 3 seed Inderkum.
“For me it will probably be a little easier at some point when I don’t have to know who I’m lining up against,” said Lincoln head coach Chris Bean, who was plenty busy hugging Bruin players after the game. “I have the utmost respect for Bear River. They just keep going and doing what they do.”
As for Bear River’s road to repeat and defend its Sac-Joaquin Section D-V title, rounding out the rest of the D-V bracket is No. 1 seed Sonora, which hosts No. 8 Marysville, No. 4 seed Orestimba, which hosts No. 5 Hughson, and No. 2 seed Capital Christian, which will host No. 7 Highlands. The Bruins would take on the winner of Capital Christian versus Highlands in the semis, should they advance.
Brian Shepard is a freelance sports writer who contributes to The Union regularly.
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