Lohn Eagles edged out by Gustine in playoff six-man game Thanksgiving Day, 70-64

ByNeal Ulmer Lohn Eagle Correspondent Lohn coaches and fans felt like the game was theirs; unfortunately, it was not, as the Gustine Tigers held on to defeat the Lohn Eagles 70-64 in the Division II, Region III, 1A six-man football game held in Gustine Nov. 22. The Eagles ended their season with an overall record of 7-4. ‘Our boys played extremely well! Statistically and physically, we beat them on the field,’ said Eagle head coach John Santiago. ‘I honestly believe we won that game, but the scoreboard said differently.’ It was definitely a game that was exciting to the end, a nail biter. Fans were treated to a game where scoring went back-and-forth, with the outcome undetermined until the final few seconds. As if the competition were not enough to make this a memorable day, just add the Thanksgiving holiday and the weather, cold, windy and wet. The wetness came in the form of sleet, rain and snow. Unfortunately, turnovers became a key to winning. The Eagles had six fumbles, lost three and had two passes intercepted. The Tigers had problems as well, losing three of four fumbles, and one pass was intercepted. On the positive side, the Eagles started off strong offensively by scoring five times, but the Tigers trailed closely with three scores, 32-18. Eagle junior running back Josh Aguilar scored four touchdowns, beginning at the 9:19 mark with a 20-yard run. He also had scoring runs of 43, 1 and 39 yards in the first quarter. As the place kicker, he made one of five point- after attempts (PATs). Later in the game, he succeeded in running for one PAT and passing for another to senior Jonathon Jordan. He had 26 rushes for 269 yards, which included six touchdowns on the night. At the 4:04 mark in the first quarter, Eagle senior Josh Fore scored on a 34-yard kickoff return. He attempted the PAT kick but failed, giving the Eagles a 20-12 lead. The first quarter gave fans an idea they were in for a classic six-man scoring fest. Gustine scored first in the second quarter as junior Wesley Jones caught a 10-yard pass from Cervantes. However, the Eagles had some difficulty moving the ball and were only able to score once. That touchdown, occurring at 5:26, was a six-yard run by senior Charles Bowen. The PAT run by Aguilar was good, and at that point the Eagles what had seemed to be a commanding lead at 39-26. Unfortunately, the other Tiger scores came on a one-yard run by junior Ty Keeter, and with 37 seconds left in the first half, an 11-yard pass reception to Jones from Cervantes. Cervantes also kicked two PATs, giving the Tigers a one point lead at halftime, 40-39. ‘Offensively, we moved the ball on the ground. It was only that we lacked a little bit in throwing the ball,’ said Coach Santiago. ‘Aguilar had some good runs. He followed his blocks, created some holes, and ran the ball hard. That was all I could have asked of him.’ In the third quarter, Lohn scored twice and Gustine three times. Aguilar scored on runs of 70 and 34 yards, respectively. He missed a PAT kick, but connected with Jordan on a pass play for one conversion. According to Santiago, the Eagles tried defensively to stop the Tigers. He said, ‘We were hitting hard; we stuck to our game plan. We put more hits on Cervantes, slowed him down, but being the good player he is, he would bounce back up and keep playing. We had some mistakes and misreads. We adjusted at the half by manning up our backfield.’ With a freezing, gusty wind and light snow, both teams scored less in the final quarter. Lohn scored twice and was moving downfield to score again in the last two minutes of the game as the clock expired. Josh Fore got loose from the Tiger defense and scored on a 25- yard pass play from quarterback Alex Salinas. The second and last Eagle touchdown of the evening was a three-yard run by Aguilar with 6:21 remaining in the game. A pass on the PAT try failed and the Eagles trailed 70-64. Santiago felt there was other good effort from the Eagles, adding, ‘Alex (Salinas) made some good judgment calls, but I think the weather hindered his passing. Josh Fore had some key catches in the game. Each senior played an important role in their last game.’ The Eagles valiantly tried to come back to score in the last two minutes of the game. The Tigers had driven down the field, reaching the Eagles’ two-yard line. At that point the Eagles dug in and held the Tigers on a fourth down. The Eagles took over the ball with about 1:38 remaining and started moving back up the field as the clock ran down. On a fourth-down play the Eagles went for the first down and made it with 10 seconds remaining. On the next play Salinas threw a pass to Charles Bowen, but it fell out of his hands. With two seconds left, Salinas again hit Bowen with the ball; as he pulled it in, the senior was tackled on the four-yard line as time ran out in the game. Special teams play an important part in the game with kickoff, receiving, punting, and in PAT tries, explained Santiago. ‘Our special teams did a good job of covering (in receiving kickoffs), but our extra points hurt us. It is something we need to work on next year. We are consistent everywhere except extra points.’ He added, ‘Thank you to the fans that supported us in the extreme weather and throughout the year.’ Playing good Eagle defense in the game were Josh Aguilar, who led the team with 20 tackles and three assists; Josh Fore had 16 tackles, followed by Alex Salinas with 11, Travis Elliott 10, Charles Bowen 8, Jonathon Jordan 4, Kaleb Couvillion 2, and Jared Russell a single tackle. Bowen had spectacular knockdowns on two Tiger passes, also intercepting one and returning it 35 yards; and he had one fumble recovery. Salinas, Jordan, and Ross Santiago had one fumble recovery each, and Elliott blocked a PAT try. Junior Joey Lawrence did a good job offensively, making some key blocks for his runners, hiking the ball well and playing hard defensively. Coach Santiago, who was assisted this year by Alex Sanchez, was proud of the Eagle football players, adding ‘It has been like a train ride. You stay on the train as far as your ticket will take you. Going from a 5-5 record last year to a 7-4 record this year is a great improvement! Each season will be a stepping stone for better ones to come. Our senior boys believed in themselves, believed in their coaching staff, and played with a lot of heart. As a coach, I could not have asked for anything more.’

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