EASTON - On the night after Thanksgiving, the Selma Bears had a Valley championship to be thankful for.
The 2-seeded Bears (11-2, 4-1 CSL) avenged one of their losses from this season by dethroning the top ranked Washington Union Panthers (11-2, 4-0 NSL) for the CIF Central Section Division IV championship at John Ventura Stadium on Friday. The Bears defeated the Panthers 35-21 for the program’s first section title since 2016.
On Sept. 13, Selma fell to Washington Union 42-32 at the same venue.
“They’re my group of brothers,” senior linebacker Adam Rodriguez said about victory. “I love winning championships with them.”
The orange and black were led by a Wing T rushing attack that gained 265 yards and rushed for all five of the team’s touchdowns. Selma never trailed in the game and its efficient running attack kept an explosive Washington Union offense off the field.
Aaron Olivares led the Bears with 129 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries, followed by Zach Zarate carrying the ball 20 times for 89 yards and a score, while Aaron Moreno ran for 49 yards and reached the end zone twice on 10 carries.
With the Panthers unable to stop the Bears on the ground, quarterback Joey Ramirez only threw the ball three times. Ramirez completed 2-of-3 passes for 76 yards. Moreno caught a pass for 44 yards while Aaron Blancas had a 32-yard reception.
“It feels great, I can’t explain it,” Ramirez said while donning a Central Section championship hat. “I’ve always talked about it with my team and it wouldn’t be fun without this group of guys.”
Selma built a 28-14 halftime lead and both teams were held scoreless in the third quarter. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Moreno rushed for a 3-yard score to extend the Bears lead to 35-14. It was Selma’s second 21-point lead of the night, the first being a 28-7 advantage with 1:39 left in the second quarter.
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With 9:10 to play, Washington Union cut the score to 14 points on the ensuing drive on a 23-yard touchdown run from quarterback Lawrence Stell. A 99-yard touchdown connection between Stell and Tory Horton was nullified with a penalty in the third quarter.
After Stell’s touchdown, the Bears were forced to punt for the first time on their next possession, but their defense made its most important stop of the game on the ensuing drive. With 4:14 to play, the Bears forced the Panthers to turn the ball over on downs on Selma’s 25-yard line.
Selma proceeded to run the clock out to walk off the field as champions.
“Our guys had to play and they made plays at the right time,” Bears head coach Matt Logue said. “Our d-line had some key sacks, we lost some contain at times, but these kids bought in. I could tell early in the week, Tuesday, Wednesday, after practices, I felt really good that our kids were really dialed in what we were trying to do and I’m just very pleased of how they played.”
Selma’s defense limited Washington Union to 203 total yards with 121 coming through the air and 82 on the ground. In the previous meeting, the Panthers gained 353 total yards of offense including 165 yards coming from the run.
The 2019 season was special in many ways for the Bears, who didn’t officially host a game this year due to the ongoing reconstruction of Staley Stadium. Selma’s title run featured all 13 of its games on the road. The Bears would play at the opposing team’s venue or would play their opponents at Sal Gonzalez Field in Reedley or Tom Flores Stadium in Sanger. Both venues served as neutral sites.
Selma was also one year removed from a 4-6 season that caused the Bears to be held out of the Division IV playoffs in 2018.
“In the offseason, these guys just killed in the weight room and with not having a stadium the whole year, being on the road the whole season, it just shows you what type of kids they are,” Logue said. “It means everything to me because all that stuff right there to me makes it extra special.”
The Bears will head down south to Lancaster to take on the Highland Bulldogs (11-3, 6-1 Golden League) in the CIF State Division 4-AA Southern California Regional Championship at Antelope Valley College on Friday at 7:30 p.m. It’ll be Selma’s first state playoff game since 2016, which ended in a 28-27 loss to Bakersfield Christian.
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