HANFORD — Hanford’s homecoming was full of student floats and pregame fun, but the same couldn’t be said after the team’s fourth quarter collapse.
The Bullpups led 26-14 in the fourth quarter at home, but couldn’t hold on against Mt. Whitney as they allowed 15 unanswered points and lost their fourth West Yosemite League game in a row, 29-26.
"We got to stick together and we’ve got to cut down on the mental mistakes and execute the game plan," Hanford coach Josh Young said. "I’ve got all the faith in these boys."
The loss drops them to 1-4 in the West Yosemite League and 1-8 overall. They’re in sixth place in the WYL standings, just ahead of Hanford West who’s 0-5 in league play.
Hanford actually made it look as if the game was going to be a blow out in the first quarter. They had a 13-play opening drive that went 80 yards and culminated in a Jupri Hughes touchdown.
After a perfect pass from quarterback Juaron Watts-brown, Hughes broke a tackle and scampered in for the 20-yard score. Hanford forced a turnover on downs from Mt. Whitney and, starting from their own 44-yard line, needed only four plays to find the end zone.
Bullpups running back Travone Houston, who finished with 22 carries for 144 yards, lowered his shoulder and ran over a defender before finishing his 16-yard run for a 14-0 lead.
"We were executing, we were fresh," Young said. "We came out at the beginning of the game like we should and that’s how we’re capable of playing. We got to continue to do that throughout the game and not just in the first quarter there."
But it was a tale of two quarters in the first half as Mt. Whitney found their rhythm in the second quarter. Mt. Whitney quarterback Jaedyn Pineda calmly led his team on a 70-yard, 12-play scoring drive to cut the deficit in half.
Pineda found receiver Anthony Valencia for the 9-yard touchdown. The Pioneers got another stop and went on an 11-play drive to knot up the score. Tied 14-14 at halftime, it was a whole new ball game headed into the second half.
"We talked [at halftime] about we needed to come out and lay the wood," Watts-brown said. "We got to do our jobs to finish this game."
Hanford started the third like they left off in the first, with a defensive strip and fumble recovery. After the recovery, Watts-brown went right down the field and took it upon himself with a rushing touchdown to take back the lead.
With neither team able to find some momentum the rest of the quarter, Hanford took a 20-14 lead into the fourth, after their extra point was blocked in the third.
Mt. Whitney had a 3rd-and-8 from their own 8 yard line to start the fourth quarter and after an incomplete pass, faced fourth down. The Pioneers were looking to punt when Hanford’s special teams found the punter and blocked the kick.
The ball flew into the end zone where Hanford quarterback/linebacker Theron Dutra jumped on the ball for the touchdown. The Bullpups missed the extra point but had a 26-14 lead with 10:55 to go in the game.
The blocked punt looked it was the nail in the coffin for Mt. Whitney. Hanford had the momentum and the crowd was rocking. But there was still time. And Mt. Whitney took advantage.
It only took them five plays on their next drive to go 60 yards and score on a 4-yard touchdown pass. The lead was cut to five.
Mt Whitney failed to recover the onside kick, but forced Hanford to turn it over on downs. Pineda took the ball with 6:32 to go and moved the Pioneers down to the 6 yard line in five plays. On first-and-goal, he found running back Juan Garcia for the touchdown and the lead.
Pineda then took it in himself for the two-point conversion and the 29-26 lead. Mt. Whitney had scored 15 points in just under four minutes and the Hanford crowd was suddenly silent.
Hanford got the ball with 5:06 to go. They needed a spark, a glimmer of hope, a game-winning drive to end their three-game losing streak. They would get none of it.
Starting at their own 35-yard line, Houston carried the ball four times in a row for 21 yards and a first down. On 3rd-and-1 from Mt. Whitney’s 44-yard line, Watts-brown went to the right to hand off the ball, but Houston went left. The miscommunication resulted in a sack and loss of six yards.
The sack also killed all the momentum the team had on the drive. Facing 4th-and-7, Hanford attempted a pass, but it fell harmlessly incomplete and the Pioneers ran out the clock after two first downs.
"We didn’t finish. We didn’t do our job," Watts-brown said about blowing their lead. "We let up and we didn’t finish."
The sophomore quarterback finished 6-of-11 for 49 yards passing and one touchdown. He also rushed nine times for 81 yards. Hughes caught two passes for 25 yards and wide receiver Daylon Davis caught four balls for 24 yards.
"We made some mental mistakes down the stretch that cost us and gave them some first downs," Young said. "We got a pretty young team, sometimes the moment … sometimes it brings up a mental mistake or causes something to happen."
Hanford has a bye week and will then play in the Milk Can game on November 3 against Lemoore (4-4, 3-1 WYL) at the Neighbor Bowl at 7:30 p.m.