LEMOORE — It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t stylish, but a win is a win. And that’s exactly what No. 7 seed Lemoore got on Friday with a final defensive stand in the fourth quarter of the CIF Central Section Division III opening round of the football playoffs at Tiger Stadium.
A year after winning only two games and going winless in the West Yosemite League, No. 7 seed Lemoore (5-6, 3-2 WYL) defeated No. 10 seed West 28-20 to earn a postseason victory for the first time since 2015.
The offense scored timely touchdowns and the defense bent, but didn’t break. Lemoore coach Joshua Kloster said his team had a bit of a hangover after a tough loss to Hanford and jitters from the playoff atmosphere, but credited them for getting the job done.
“We were able to find a way to win and that’s the most important thing,” Kloster said. “Any time you can get a win, you’re going to take it.”
West (4-7, 2-3 SYL) forced a punt and had the ball at its own 43-yard line with 1:55 left in the game and trailing by eight points. They needed a touchdown and 2-point conversion to try and force overtime.
Back-to-back runs netted seven yards, but a costly fumble on third down made it fourth-and-11. The Tigers’ defense capped the night by forcing an incomplete pass to end the game.
“The defense played an up and down game,” Kloster said. “At times they looked really good and at times they gave up a little bit too much. That’s a way a better football team than people think … but we were able to pull it out when the defense needed to. They made the stops.”
The Tigers took over with 29 seconds left and took a knee to run out the clock and do something that seemed implausible at the start of the season — win a playoff game.
“This is a great moment and this is all possible because of the support of my wife and my family,” Kloster said. “We’re sports people and it’s coming together. The community has helped get behind us, the school district, the school and you can feel it it’s turned a corner. It looks like it’s going in the right direction.”
Lemoore wide receiver Will Schalde helped pace the offense with two first-half touchdowns, while running backs Elijah Jones and William Kloster gave the Tigers valuable time of possession by moving the chains.
“We just got guys that make big plays and they know how to make big plays when they need it,” Schalde said. “We all know how to step up, the O-line blocked great tonight, we were able to run the ball really efficiently. It was just a real good team effort on offense.”
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The Tigers pitched a shutout in the first half and led 14-0 at the break. But the Vikings came out of halftime and scored on their first drive of the half with a 20-yard touchdown run by Leauauna T. Laulu Jr.
Lemoore answered on their very next possession. Facing a third-and-six from the Vikings’ 46-yard line on the Tigers’ next possession, Schalde took a pass down the sideline for 40 yards and down to the 6-yard line. Kloster finished off the drive with a run up the middle to reestablish the two-score gap.
The Vikings refused to go away and scored just before the end of the third quarter and trailed 21-13 entering the fourth.
That’s when the offense came up clutch and went on an 11-play, 59-yard drive — extending from the end of the third into the fourth — ending with a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Justin Holaday on third-and-goal. Holaday accounted for three total touchdowns, including passing for two.
“It’s everything for us,” Schalde said about the victory. “Besides like five of us that got pulled up our sophomore year, no one on this team has played in the playoffs.”
Hosting a playoff game for the first time since 2015, the Tigers treated fans to a 7-play, 66-yard scoring drive on their opening possession. Jones had a 24-yard reception to set the Tigers inside the Vikings’ 15-yard line. Schalde did the rest with a 12-yard touchdown catch.
“The guy had been playing me face up, so I knew I could beat him to the inside and once I was there it was cash money,” Schalde said.
His second score came in the second quarter when a fake handoff allowed Schalde to break open for a 2-yard touchdown catch near the pylon.
“We’ve been running that little play-action wide corner the whole season,” Schalde said. “It’s worked like a dream every time, tonight included, so I was pretty confident both of those were going to score.”
Lemoore will travel to face No. 2 seed Bakersfield Christian (7-3, 4-1 SYL), who had a first-round bye, in the quarterfinals next Friday at 7 p.m.