PREP FOOTBALL: Bear River return to form, advance to semifinals | TheUnion.com
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PREP FOOTBALL: Bear River return to form, advance to semifinals

Bear River's Gunnar Simpson finishes off a tackle on a Ripon player during a Sac-Joaquin Section D-V first round playoff game in Ripon.
Photo by Brian O’Brien |

BRUINS 20, INDIANS 7

First quarter

R: Caleb McCusker 4-yard run (4:02) Juan Rodriguez kick

Third quarter

BR: Toran Maronic 25-yard pass from Jason Voter (8:49) Britt Sawyer kick

BR: Dave Mastrella 65-yard pass from Voter (5:21) Sawyer kick

BR: Ben O’Lena 50-yard pass from Voter (:54) PAT no good

Just a short week ago the Bear River football team appeared to be in shambles, coming off their third consecutive loss and backing its way into the postseason.

Despite blows to the team involving injuries and questions surrounding morale, the No. 6 seed Bruins pulled themselves together on the road Friday night in the Sac-Joaquin Section D-V opening round and got it done when it mattered most, knocking off No. 3 seed Ripon at Stouffer Field, 20-7.

“I get to keep my desk for another week,” said Bruins’ co-head coach Terry Logue, whose team scored 20 unanswered points in the third quarter to storm back and stun the Indians. “After the game at Lincoln, I thought my desk would be cleared out on Monday, but they gave me one more chance so I have another week.”



Amidst the Indians’ home crowd, combined with frequent freight trains blaring in the background and the boom of a cannon, it was an intimidating home field advantage. However, the cannon only boomed once, for the one and only score Ripon could muster as Bear River’s defense stood tall. On the Bruins’ side, a faithful BruiNation filled the bleachers, making the trek down and bringing a chorus of cowbells with them to add extra support.

“At halftime, right before we came back out, (Jason) got us all pumped up and we knew we were going to win this game,” said senior running back Dave Mastrella, who led the charge offensively, banging his way through tackles for 111 yards on 16 carries and catching a 65-yard touchdown pass. “We were tired of losing. We were prepared for this game. We came out hard. Losing three games actually helped us I think. We were ready to bounce back and we’re back.”




TURNING POINT

Following an inspirational halftime speech by senior quarterback Jason Voter, Bear River took the field in the second half with a unquenchable hunger for victory. The Bruins received the second half kickoff and drove 63 yards in eight plays to tie the game 7-7. However, Ripon fired back with an 85-yard kickoff return to quickly put the pressure back on the Bear River defense, which withstood the challenge.

“Big plays and great defense and special teams, other than that one kickoff return,” added Logue, who was more than satisfied with his defense. “That was the turning point of the game. We kept them out of the end zone and they didn’t even get a field goal there. When you get in the playoffs, there is no home field really, I mean it’s nice, but every play is do or die. Our kids played like that tonight. I’m so proud of them.”

Bear River would go on to score two more touchdowns in the third quarter as Voter finished his night passing just 5-for-14 for 159 yards, but had three touchdowns with receptions of 25, 65 and 50 yards hauled in by Toran Maronic, Mastrella and Ben O’Lena, respectively.

“I knew the last two weeks (Center, Lincoln) didn’t really represent who we are,” said Voter. “We kind of lost some of our confidence in losing players (to injury), but I think we got it back. I’m so proud of everyone and just the way they responded after halftime, and that third quarter mainly, that was great.”

DOMINATING DEFENSIVELY

Like it had much of the season, defense proved to be the difference-maker for the Bruins. When the offense’s wheels were spinning in the mud early on, the defense carried the load and stopped the bleeding. Ripon’s quarterback Nick Price threw 16-for-30 for 153 yards with two second half interceptions, both nabbed by Bear River’s Jake Potts.

Just a week after allowing 49 points and over 500 yards of total offense at Lincoln, the most it had all season, the Bruins smothered the Indians’ quick-passing scheme and put out their fire, surrendering just seven points and 261 yards of total offense. In the second quarter, Mastrella broke up a pass and saved a touchdown on a fourth down play that would have given Ripon a 14-0 lead. In the second half, it was senior linebacker Gunnar Simpson leading the charge, wrapping up three sacks for a combined loss of 24 yards, including back-to-back sacks on crucial third and fourth down plays in the fourth quarter to end another potential Ripon scoring drive. Senior Jimmy Vaughn also wrapped up a sack for a loss of five yards before exiting the game with a knee injury. The Bruins tallied a total of six sacks in the game.

INSPIRATIONAL RETURN

Perhaps the most inspiring defensive moments came not on any single play, but rather, in the act of simply stepping out on to the field. Senior Kyle Uclaray, who had been sidelined since suffering an injury in the team’s first game Sept. 28 at Pacheco, made an impactful return and wrapped up three tackles.

“The kid (Uclaray) is playing on a torn ACL and MCL,” said Voter. “Like if I had that I’d be at home eating ice cream. I don’t get it, but the kid is an animal, it is what it is. You can’t keep him off the field for anything. To get out here and play is just ridiculous, and to get tackles too, not just stand there, but to actually do something, it was so inspiring for all of us.”

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

For the fourth week in a row Bear River (8-3) will hit the road, this time to take on No. 2 seed Capital Christian (11-0) of Sacramento, in what will be a matchup of 2014 Section champions, with the Bruins owning the D-V title and the Cougars having won the D-VI title. Capital Christian dismantled No. 7 seed Highlands in its first round home playoff game, 49-6.

Brian Shepard is a freelance sports writer who contributes to The Union regularly.


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