HANFORD - Behind a four touchdown performance from Adam Autuna, the Sierra Pacific Golden Bears (5-6, 3-3 ESL) started its postseason run with a 40-27 win over the Kern Valley Broncs (4-7, 3-2 HDL) in the first round of the CIF Central Section Division VI playoffs at the Neighbor Bowl on Friday.
Three of Antuna’s four touchdowns were for 50 or more yards including a 57-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. The junior followed that score with a 58-yard run in the second quarter and a 50-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Antuna’s final touchdown, a 16-yard play, sealed the game for the Golden Bears with a 40-21 advantage with 9:25 to play. Along with his four touchdowns, Antuna finished the night with 311 rushing yards on 19 carries.
“Our line worked really hard and Antuna ran great,” quarterback Gavin Gamble said. “We just put the team on his back and he just did what he did.”
Gamble's only two passes were incomplete, but he kept the chains moving with his legs by running for 160 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. As a team, the Golden Bears gained 536 yards on the ground.
"We were able to run the ball well all night long," Sierra Pacific coach Dion Tate said. "With the way Adam Antuna, the way he was running the ball tonight, with Gavin, the way he was running, it allowed us to eat the clock."
Sierra Pacific built a 28-7 lead going into halftime with two touchdowns each in the first and second quarters. Antuna and Jason Harris Jr. (1-yard touchdown) put the Golden Bears up 14-0 on their first two possessions of the game. After a first quarter score from the Broncs, Antuna and Gamble (35-yard touchdown) ran into the endzone to extend Sierra Pacific’s lead to three touchdowns at halftime.
The Broncs got within one touchdown in the third quarter by putting together two consecutive scoring drives to start the second half. Kern Valley quarterback Kaden Preston was tough to contain on both possessions, rushing for a 2-yard touchdown and getting in the endzone on a 1-yard quarterback sneak on 4th-and-goal.
With Broncs looking like they have all the momentum, Antuna shifted it back to the Golden Bears sideline with his third touchdown of the game to put Sierra Pacific up by 13 points near the end of the third quarter. A bad snap caused the extra point to be unsuccessful, leaving the Golden Bears’ lead at 34-21 at the end of the quarter.
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“I can’t do that without my linemen,” Antuna said about his four touchdown performance. “My linemen give me the holes, so I could make those big runs and just take it for the breakaway runs. It helps me as a player, but I know I could that without my linemen.”
Up next for the 7-seeded Golden Bears is a quarterfinal matchup against the top-seeded California City Ravens next Friday. The Ravens defeated No. 15 McFarland 20-7 in the first round. California City (4-1 in the High Desert League) will go into the matchup at 9-2 overall.
For Sierra Pacific to pull off the upset against the Ravens, Tate said their zone defense will need to improve against a squad he considers to feature a strong passing attack.
“We need to work on our zone defense a little more, making sure the guys understand to stay in your area and not chase the man.,” Tate said. “I think where they [Kern Valley] caught us, guys started chasing people, so we have to reinforce in our zone. This week, we’ll really work on our zone defense.”
Sierra Pacific qualified for the postseason by earning two victories in their final two regular games. The Golden Bears outscored their final two opponents 70-0 and rushed for a combined 801 yards.
After suffering some heartbreaking losses this season, Tate said his team is “clicking at the right time” after earning their third-straight victory.
“I’ve always preached, you just win enough to get into the playoffs,” Tate said. “Once you get into the playoffs, it doesn’t matter where you rank because everybody starts out 0-0 again.”
“We had to grow and adjust to the mistakes that we had early on. I think right now, it’s the perfect time for us.”