Shepard: Bruins peaking at perfect time
Special to The Union
After overcoming mother nature and a tough Center squad to earn a 7-6 victory last Friday night, the Bear River Bruins now find themselves on the cusp of something special — a top seed and home playoff games.
“Things look good,” said Bear River co-head coach Scott Savoie. “We got to finish the deal next week. We aren’t looking past anybody. Right now I’m just cherishing this week.”
Bear River hasn’t hosted a Sac-Joaquin Section D-IV playoff game since 2005, a game it won. Come playoff time every team that makes the bracket has a shot, but obviously being able to play under home lights has its advantages. The Bruins have been bounced out in the first round of the postseason in their last five appearances, but all have been road games.
“I think we got a great chance to make a deep run,” added Bruins co-head coach Terry Logue.
There’s no reason to doubt the potential these Bruins have. With their backs against the wall versus the Cougars, they found a way to rise above the muck and drive down the field for the game-winning score. Junior running back David O’Brien earned his stripes with 12 carries for 68 yards and also threw 3-for-3 passing for 38 yards and a touchdown.
The Bruins defense came through down the stretch, halting the Cougars and giving their team a chance to win it. Kyle Krogman and Connor Hollister came up huge, buckling down on Center’s dynamic backs. The Cougars rushed 30 times for 73 yards, an average of only 2.4 yards per carry. Center also turned it over on downs after a first-and-goal opportunity later in the first half.
Despite three turnovers and a turnover on downs at the Cougars 5-yard line, Bear River weathered the storm when it mattered most. The final drive began from the Bruins own 21-yard line with 5:43 to play and even backed up to their own 9-yard line after a holding penalty. O’Brien piled up 41 yards rushing out of the wildcat formation, following his blockers and slipping by defenders across muddy waters. He completed a 16-yard pass to Dave Mastrella and a 21-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Wager.
The point after for Bruins kicker Ben O’Lena was no ‘gimme’ either. Rain was pouring down harder than it had all night and the middle of the field, where the ball was to be kicked, had the consistency of soup. Overtime looked like a real possibility, but the snap, hold and kick were executed flawlessly and Bear River’s defense rode the momentum to the finish.
Jimmy Vaughn and Cannon Fetter brought pressure and the Bruins secondary stuck like glue. Center never gained a yard on its final possession. In fact, all of the Cougars 94 passing yards came in the first half. The Bruins yielded only 34 yards total offense in the second half and just one first down, which was only gained because of a face mask penalty.
Giving up the 56-yard bomb on the first play from scrimmage didn’t have Bear River throwing in the towel. The Bruins kept themselves in it and kept taking their shots. Eventually they powered through, earning its first win against Center since 2010.
It certainly doesn’t take much to keep these Bruins motivated and this week is no exception with a homecoming for former junior varsity coach Chris Bean. With a win against Lincoln this Friday, Bear River would all but guarantee not just one home game, but possibly two. Placer can wrap up the Pioneer Valley League outright title with a win against Colfax, but the Bruins control their own destiny for runner up if they can knock off the Fighting Zebras.
Bear River (7-2, 3-1 PVL) takes on Lincoln Friday at J. David Ramsey Field.
Brian Shepard is a freelance sports writer who contributes to The Union regularly.
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