HANFORD — When push came to shove, the Bullpups didn’t flinch.
After outscoring the Rangers 17-0 in the first half, the Bullpups had just seen their lead narrowed to three points on a 4-yard touchdown run by Redwood’s Diamond Davis. But the defending WYL champions flourished under the pressure.
“We had good leadership on the sidelines, kept the kids on the field in it,” Hanford coach Josh Young said. “We have a lot of seniors and they kept things up. We just really stayed focused and ran our game plan.”
Hanford (8-0, 3-0 WYL) went on to score three fourth-quarter touchdowns and win 36-20 over previously undefeated Redwood (7-1, 2-1 WYL) at a packed Neighbor Bowl on Thursday. The victory gives them sole possession of first place in league and leaves them as the last team in Division II with a perfect record.
“It was a hell of a game on both sides of the ball,” Hanford linebacker Tyler Mello said. “We just couldn’t let our emotions get ahead of us and focus on what we had to do.”
The Bullpups have now won nine league games in a row dating back to November 2017.
After building a 17-0 lead, the Bullpups came out flat to start the second half. They punted and turned the ball over on downs on their first two possessions and were shut out in the third quarter. The Rangers on the other hand scored on 43- and 73-yard drives.
But after the defense was able to force a punt, Luttrell Young, who’s been the No. 1 running back for the Bullpups, came up big for a third week in a row. The junior broke free on second-and-six for a 48-yard touchdown run and gave the Bullpups a 23-14 lead with 9:02 left in the fourth quarter.
“It was my dude Hayden [Pulis],” Young said. “We ran 49 I believe and he just led through the hole and it was wide open for me. He left it wide open.”
Young scored twice on Thursday and made it 11 total touchdowns on the year. He’s scored multiple touchdowns in three consecutive games and rushed for a game-high 154 yards on 23 carries on Thursday. It’s the third game in a row Young has rushed for 150 yards or more.
Hanford freshman Brandon Ramirez also helped pace the running game with 13 carries for 104 yards.
On the very next possession, Redwood faced a fourth-and-3 from their own 37-yard line. They elected to try a fake punt and were tackled by Garrett Revious and Juan Nuno close to the first-down marker. The referee asked for a measurement and the Rangers came up a couple of chain links short.
“It’s huge to be able to have some stops,” Josh Young said. “It’s big and we have confidence in our players to be able to execute and confidence in our defense to be able to make those plays in crucial times and they came up pretty good tonight.”
With some momentum back on their side, the Bullpups decided to take all of it back four plays later when quarterback Juaron Watts-brown flew down the sideline for a 31-yard touchdown to make it 29-14. He carried the ball nine times for 91 yards and completed 7-of-18 passes for 83 yards.
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“We just put it all together in practice,” Young said. “We came out here and did what we had to do. The conditioning that we do at practice helps in the game.”
The Rangers managed to score with 3:53 to go, but a failed onside kick coupled with Young’s second touchdown with 1:08 to go sealed the game.
It was a defensive battle to start the game, but after back-to-back punts by the Bullpups, they started to find some rhythm on offense.
The Bullpups put together a 10-play, 90-yard drive with Watts-brown sneaking it in at the 1-yard line for the 7-0 lead. On the drive, Watts-brown found wide receiver Taryn Rubalcava for 41 yards putting them in Rangers territory. Rubalcava finished with five catches for 72 yards.
The Rangers drove on their next possession to the Bullpups’ 1-yard line, but the defense held firm on fourth-and-goal to force the turnover. Redwood had four plays inside the Hanford 5 yard line, but couldn’t break the goal line on four consecutive running attempts.
Hanford then turned around and went on a 99-yard drive ending with a 6-yard fade to a wide open Tyler Mello in the corner of the end zone. Two plays before, Mello caught a 13-yard pass and converted a third-and-five by practically dragging a defender to the 6-yard line.
“They told the linebacker to watch me and so I noticed on the play when I pretended to down block that he cut inside so that’s when I cut out and Juaron threw a nice ball,” Mello, who caught two passes for 28 yards, said.
Hanford kicker Ethan Teale booted a 30-yard field goal with 1:25 left in the half.
Mello anchored a defense which held the Rangers to a season-low 20 points. Their previous low was 27 points against Tulare Western. Daylon Davis recorded his seventh interception of the season and the Bullpups defense showed why it’s arguably the best in Division II.
“We just stuck to our assignments and didn’t overshoot,” Mello said. “They like to stretch it out and find holes, so we just stuck to our assignments and got it done.”
The Bullpups have allowed the second-fewest points (102) in Division II. Only Righetti, who’s played seven games, has allowed fewer (88). And the offense has far and away scored more points than any other team in the division.
Hanford’s 406 points are 118 more than second-place San Joaquin Memorial’s 288. The Bullpups boast a +304 scoring differential, also tops among the division.
Hanford will continue their quest to repeat as league champions against Golden West (5-2, 1-1 WYL) next Friday on the road at 7 p.m. The Trailblazers narrowly lost to the Rangeres 42-38 last week.
“We’re going to celebrate tonight and enjoy the victory, but the coaching staff will get busy tomorrow,” Josh Young said. “Golden West is a very dynamic team, very, very good coached team and it’s hard to duplicate that offense in practice. We got to have a very good week of practice and give it our best.”