HANFORD — If every football game was like the 76th Milk Can game, there would be no need for any other sport.
The high stakes, a comeback and a late play to seal the game all left the best team standing at the end — the Hanford Bullpups.
The Bullpups trailed by 14 at halftime, but put together an explosive second half as they claimed the Milk Can trophy for a fourth year in a row and finished a perfect regular season with a 43-36 victory over the Tigers at the Neighbor Bowl on Friday.
“It’s super special, it’s something that we’re going to remember for the rest of our lives,” Hanford coach Josh Young said. “They’re a special group of kids and I couldn’t be more happy for them and proud of them and the way they conducted themselves tonight.”
The fans in attendance got to see some incredible history on Friday night. The Bullpups finished the regular season 10-0. That hasn’t happened since 1974. They also won their second consecutive West Yosemite League championship with a 5-0 record. The last time the Bullpups won back-to-back league titles was the 1934-35 seasons.
When you sum it all up, the Bullpups have put together one of the most impressive regular seasons in school history.
“It’s amazing,” Hanford receiver Taryn Rubalcava said. “We’ve all been playing together since we were little kids and we’ve been talking about this since like we were eight years old, so it’s great to make it a reality.”
Trailing 29-15 at halftime, Hanford struggled to contain Lemoore’s offense. The 29 points were the most the Bullpups had allowed in a first half all season long.
“We were playing really bad football and we just wanted to play better,” Rubalcava said. “We’ve been talking about this all season long we just couldn’t let it go down the drain that fast.”
They came out and did just that.
The Bullpups scored twice in three minutes and 29 seconds after scoring 15 points in the entire first half. First, on a 44-yard touchdown catch by receiver Noah Noyola and then on a 4-yard run by quarterback Juaron Watts-brown.
With a tie game now, the Bullpups’ defense got in on the action with an interception by Brandon Ramirez after the ball deflected off a Tigers receiver’s hands. The Bullpups took advantage going 72 yards in eight plays, including converting a fourth-and-one, to take a 36-29 lead on Travone Houston’s 5-yard run.
Just like that, the Bullpups had scored 21 unanswered points.
“We told them at halftime we just got to play our style of football,” Young said. “We really put it on the kids. It was really them, there was no magic plays called or anything. They took responsibility for it and came out in the second half and played a great half.”
During the previous drive, Watts-brown was hit out of bounds and suffered a right shoulder injury. He missed the remainder of the game, but coach Young said it was a minor injury and he “probably could’ve gone” back into the game.
Before getting injured, Watts-brown tossed three touchdowns on an efficient 12-of-15 passing for 165 yards and picked up 85 yards on the ground.
In stepped backup quarterback Cason Whitney, a senior who had made a total of three passes this season, and he did not flinch in the big moment.
“I just knew that all the hours I put in the offseason and different things, the way it’s gone just step up and fill Juaron’s shoes,” Whitney said. “I just wanted to do it for my team.”
Tied in the fourth quarter, Whitney helped engineer what would be the game-winning drive.
Starting at Lemoore’s 48-yard line, the Bullpups marched down the field to the 5-yard line after a 21-yard pass by Whitney to receiver Anthony James. Rubalcava finished off the drive with a 2-yard rush.
“Our line, they blocked really good,” Rubalcava, who also caught an 11-yard touchdown in the first half, said. “I saw the opening in the middle and just cut it up and it was just an easy touchdown. It was just a wide open hole, I took it.”
On the Tigers’ final two possessions of the game, the defense came up big. Matthew Pulido came up with an interception as the Tigers were driving and then they stopped them on fourth-and-2.
The Bullpups got the ball back with 4:50 left on the clock. It was only appropriate that Whitney, who was thrust into the spotlight, picked up 12 yards on a fourth-and-2 to allow the Bullpups to run out the clock.
“Originally it was supposed to be a run to the left and I was able to pop it out right and saw the open field,” Whitney said. “It was just relief. It feels good to win.”
After the game, coach Young received a game ball from Hanford principal Scott Pickle for guiding the team to a 10-0 record.
You have free articles remaining.
“He understands the history of the moment and it was very nice that he did that and I’m super respectful of him for doing that,” Young said.
Aside from all the history, the victory also gives the Bullpups a good chance at the No. 1 seed in the CIF Central Section Division II playoffs and a first-round bye.
Lemoore (4-6, 3-2 WYL) got off to a fast start and looked like they might get a share of the league title for the first time since 2015, but they couldn’t keep up the offensive pace. Tigers receiver Will Schalde said it’s a problem the team’s had this season.
“We played the first half of our lives, but that’s kind of been the story of our lives this year,” Schalde said. “Either the first or second half we play great and then the other half is just not our best football and that was evident tonight.”
The Tigers led 7-0 after a 1-yard sneak by quarterback Justin Holaday in the first quarter, but really poured it on in the second. They scored 22 points and had a 15-point lead at one point.
Tigers running back Elijah Jones then scored on a 3-yard carry for a 15-0 lead after a 2-point conversion. After a Hanford score, it was Jones again on a 4-yard carry. Holaday ended the half with a 26-yard scramble to give the Tigers a two-score lead.
“We’ve just gotten better week to week,” Lemoore coach Joshua Kloster said about the first half. “Our quarterback was hitting on all cylinders, he’s making good decisions when he needs to. Just us executing … we were ready to play.”
The Tigers may not have gotten a share of the league title, but they have qualified for the playoffs after finishing with a winning record in league. They’ll more than likely play next Friday.
“I’m happy for the way they performed and we’re in this rebuild and we’ve definitely turned the corner,” Kloster said. “Moving forward, I hope a lot of great things will come out of Lemoore football.”
Lemoore-Justin Holaday 1-yard run (Sebastian Guerrero kick), 5:05
Lemoore-Elijah Jones 3-yard run (David Moore 2-point conversion, Holaday pass), 11:46
Hanford-Taryn Rubalcava 11-yard pass from Juaron Watts-brown (Ethan Teale kick), 10:14
Lemoore-Elijah Jones 4-yard run (Guerrero kick), 6:13
Hanford-Anthony James 37-yard pass form Watts-brown (Teale kick), 4:38
Lemoore-Holaday 26-yard run (Guerrero kick), 1:37
Hanford-Noah Noyola 44-yard pass from Watts-brown (Teale kick), 9:58
Hanford-Watts-brown 4-yard run (Teale kick), 8:31
Hanford-Travone Houston 5-yard run (Teale kick), 4:22
Lemoore-Elijah Jones 3-yard run (Guerrero kick), 1:18
Hafnord-Rubalcava 2-yard run (Teale kick), 11:00