SACRAMENTO – Few expected much from Vintage in Thursday night’s playoff opener at Inderkum High, but this year’s team has made a living off shirking expectations.
As the No. 15 seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs, the Crushers returned from a two-year postseason drought and put the undefeated Tigers, the No. 2 seed, in a rare position, trailing at halftime for the first time this year.
Vintage scored 13 points in the final minute of the first half but was unable to sustain its three-point lead at the break, getting held off the scoreboard over the final two quarters en route to a 35-24, season-ending defeat.
“This group is resilient,” said Crushers head coach Dylan Leach, “and just like I told them (after the game), I couldn’t be more proud of the seniors and the way they’ve bought into what we’re doing as a coaching staff and a program, and being leaders on the way for these younger guys – to see a good example. And we did it with class. We did it with integrity and character … but hey, you’re up against a good team, obviously, that has a lot of speed. We tried to do all we could and we came up short at the end.”
Vintage’s (7-3) scoring outburst over the final 46 seconds of the first half began with a 3-yard touchdown run by Michael Webber, which capped a 10-play, 90-yard drive highlighted by three consecutive first-down runs. Pedja Zivkovic (nine carries, 58 yards) went for 10 yards, Webber ran for 12 and Drew Hatfield broke one for 15.
On the ensuing Tigers (11-0) possession, junior quarterback Joseph Sapp threw into a crowded secondary and Isaiah Garcia came down with an interception that quickly turned into much more. The senior captain ran 57 yards down the right side behind a host of blockers until he crossed the goal line for the go-ahead TD, 24-21.
Inderkum didn’t record another pass attempt the rest of the night.
“It felt great,” Garcia said. “The outcome sucks, but to be able to make big plays like we did tonight, it was great.”
“It was great that we were able to go (ahead),” added Leach. “You want to finish halves, right? We talk about it all the time – finish quarters, finish halves. If we can do that on a regular basis, it’s going to be good. That was an exciting play and obviously it gave us the jolt going in (to halftime).”
Garcia’s pick-six came just minutes after he had taken a hard hit at the end of a 5-yard run that sent him to sideline to receive treatment.
“This game is a tough game,” Leach said. “We know that, and we’ve got to hang our hats on that. For him to come out, nose bloodied up, helmet went flying off … he looked at me and said, ‘I’m ready to go.’ Just wiped his nose off (and went back in). That’s who we are and that’s who we’ve always been, and I look forward to the day when the next level, the next team does the same thing (following) by his examples.”
However, after halftime, the Crushers were held off the scoreboard as the Tigers’ defense held firm on multiple possessions, backed up in their own territory.
On the first series of the third quarter, Viliami Schaumkel, who had two first-half carries go for a whopping 0 yards, broke free for 34 on third down to move the visitors across midfield. But, four plays later, Webber’s throw on a fake punt was intercepted by Inderkum’s Aaron Espero.
The Tigers cashed that in for six points eight plays later, boosted by a 28-yard run from Johnny Williams. Destynd Lewis put the home team back in front on a 10-yard run – his second TD of the night. He finished with 10 carries for 78 yards and put his side ahead 21-11 at the 4:28 mark of the second quarter on an 18-yard scamper for six.
Inderkum looked to pad its lead after the game’s only punt at the 4:03 mark of the third quarter. The Crushers then stripped the ball on a third-down snap, and it was Jesus Galvan that came up with it.
But a holding call on a possible fourth-down conversion thwarted any hopes of scoring, and Inderkum got the breathing room it needed on a 12-play scoring drive that burned more than six minutes of game clock in the fourth quarter. Isaiah Ward posted the final points of the night on a 1-yard keeper.
That missed opportunity, recovering a fumble in Tigers’ territory, was the second time the Crushers failed to capitalize on a turnover. Late in the first quarter, Nolan Brown jumped on a loose ball on an Inderkum kick return following an Eddy Gonzalez 25-yard field goal – Vintage’s first points of the night. The Crushers only moved 5 yards in that sequence, and turned it over on downs.
Their other score came midway through the second quarter on another lengthy possession. Garcia called his own number on a 7-yard TD and also ran it in for the two-point conversion. He finished with a game-high 97 yards on 16 carries.
After Ward’s TD that extended Inderkum’s lead to 11 in the waning moments of the game, Vintage marched across the 50-yard line one last time. But the drive ended abruptly when a third-down pass from Garcia was intercepted by Tahj Harvey, and the Tigers took over with 3:02 remaining.
Two first-down conversions later, the home team was in the victory formation taking a knee to run out the clock.
“It was David, Goliath,” said Garcia. “We weren’t supposed to win this game, but we came out and gave it everything we’ve got. Tough loss, but played great, I think.”
Much of Vintage’s first-half success was due to its effective run game, mixing up runners and working every side of the field. The offense piled up 219 of its 313 total yards in the first two quarters, with seven ball carriers sharing the workload.
The Crushers were also 4 of 6 on third downs in the first half, many of those plays going for big gains like Merrick Barnett’s 24-yard reception and Garcia’s 34-yard run on their opening drive.
That kept the time of possession in the visitors’ favor, and Inderkum’s high-powered attack off the field. In all, Vintage was 6 of 11 (55 percent) on third downs.
“The thing about our team, we’re not athletic, we’re not fast. We’re just tough,” Garcia said. “That’s all we know how to do. We know how to run downhill and that’s what we’ve been doing. Teams can look at us and say we’re low-scoring, but we’ll run it down your throat. That’s what we’re good at.”
But the Tigers were able to stomach the constant march of the Crushers, and posted 183 of their 351 total yards in the half that tends to matter most.
For Leach, the result doesn’t take anything away from Vintage’s season, one that saw a Monticello Empire League title chase, a Big Game victory, and a whole new atmosphere that enveloped the program.
“If someone would have woke me up at the beginning of the season and said, ‘Hey, you can be 7-2 and go to the playoffs,’ I would’ve took it,” said Leach. “These guys have bought in to everything we’ve said and they’ve kind of changed the culture of Vintage. I think we’ve created a tough-nosed group that has a bunch of character and has discipline. That’s what we’re all about.”