WINTERS — St. Helena High senior lineman Ryland Campos felt his team undergo a change on Friday night.
The Saints had had their 30-14 halftime lead snatched away by Winters early in the third quarter, as fumbles on consecutive possessions resulted in consecutive scoring drives by the Warriors – over a span of less than two minutes – that brought the score even at 30-30.
Campos saw hanging heads and growing frustration among his teammates as they tried to come to terms with what had just happened.
Campos and other veteran players then sprung into action, preaching words of encouragement to get the Saints’ heads back into the game.
“I said, ‘This is a family. We’ve got to push forward and get through this. This is only one game. We still have seven, and hopefully more, to go,’” Campos recalled.
The Saints lifted their heads, tossed aside their doubt and rallied in the fourth quarter, changing from a team to a family before Campos’ eyes.
Once again, thanks to timely defensive plays and explosive runs, St. Helena pulled away from Winters late for a 44-30 win that sent the Saints into their bye week with a perfect 3-0 record.
“I introduced the term ‘family’ and that seemed to get everyone going,” Campos said after the game, short of breath.
He stopped to gather himself, bent over, and took a deep breath.
“I’m really (expletive) emotional right now,” he said. “That was a hard-fought game. I’m gonna cry. Oh my God. Just seeing each other rally in the second half was a great thing.”
He paused again for a beat.
“I don’t know what to say,” he continued with a shaky voice. “Seeing things come together after we lost the ball was a great thing to see. There was a lot of frustration in the first half. We were yelling at each other, and then we just came back and took it to them.”
Six plays after Winters (0-2) tied the game at 30, junior Cody DiTomaso broke off a 59-yard touchdown run to give the lead back to the Saints for good. St. Helena then forced a turnover on downs after sacking Winters quarterback Carson Lowrie on back-to-back plays, which set DiTomaso up for a 40-yard touchdown run to put the exclamation point on the Saints’ final nonleague game of the season.
DiTomaso finished with 189 rushing yards on just eight carries with four touchdowns. He led a Saints rushing attack that totaled 426 yards on 53 carries and six scores on the evening. Junior quarterback Daniel Martinez put in a workhorse-like effort with 108 yards on 24 carries with a touchdown, while sophomore running back Ivan Robledo – who was once again limited in the second half with cramps – racked up 115 yards on 19 carries with a score.
But it was St. Helena’s defense that rallied when it mattered most. Jake Lehman, Jake Mendes and Henry Dixon each pulled in an interception, and the Saints and sacked Lowrie five times. Most importantly, they held a potent Warriors offense scoreless in the fourth quarter.
“I’m just proud of them for how they persevered,” said St. Helena head coach Brandon Farrell. “They settled down. They rallied around each other.”
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They only needed to rally, though, after the Warriors had their way offensively early on. Winters had five plays where it gained 25 yards or more, the last of which was the 37-yard touchdown pass from Lowrie to David Reyes that tied the game in the third quarter.
Reyes had 74 receiving yards on five catches, including the touchdown, while Tony Garcia had four catches for 69 yards – all thanks to Lowrie, who completed 9 of 12 passes for 143 yards with the touchdown, and added 78 yards rushing with two more scores.
Running back Aidan Cruz also added a score on 12 carries to go with his 68 yards rushing.
The aforementioned Reyes, Garcia, Lowrie and Cruz all made their presence felt on Friday night, accounting for every touchdown and offensive yard gained by the Warriors.
But the by the start of the fourth quarter, the Saints had figured out the tricky schemes and deception the Warriors had deployed to get back in the game.
“That first half was tough, actually seeing that offense, because scout team offense is different in practice,” Campos said. “But once we got the hang of it, fourth quarter, we had them pretty much shut down. We did figure it out in the end.”
The Saints brought a little extra motivation into this game, as well, after Winters had beaten them up on their own field last season, 49-21.
“This team was one of our top prizes, if that’s what you want to call them,” DiTomaso said.
With this monkey off their back, the Saints will enter their bye week with another prize in sight – reigning North Central League I champ Kelseyville, a team that beat the Saints 50-29 last year.
St. Helena will open league play against the Knights on the road Sept. 20.
St. Helena JV 56, Winters 7
Spencer Printz and Harrison Ronayne ran wild against the Warriors, combining for seven of St. Helena’s eight touchdowns in a 56-7 win over Winters to improve to 3-0 on the season.
Printz had touchdown runs of 70, 40, 48 and 4 yards, the last of which came midway through the third quarter to give the Saints a 43-7 lead.
Ronayne scored on runs of 21 and 3 yards before returning an interception around 80 yards for St. Helena’s last score of the game.
Clayton Gambill had the other touchdown on a 1-yard run early in the fourth quarter.