The California Pintos gave what many consider their best physical and emotional effort of the season Friday night at Versailles as they came from behind with less than three minutes to play to claim a 27-26 victory against the Tigers.
"In my 17 years of coaching, this is one of the top victories for me," California Coach Lance Johnston said. "We had kids who gave unbelievable effort. Several linemen really stepped it up and Corey Kramel did a great job running the offense. Logan Rowles had a good game. I'm proud of everybody."
Despite the Tigers' key weapon in senior Eddie Stevenson, who scored three of Versailles' four touchdowns and ended the night with 224 rushing yards, the Pinto defense remained steady and California pocketed a much-needed win in Class 3 District 8 play.
The Tigers were the first to score as they cashed in on a Pinto fumble with 3:39 left in the first quarter. The Pintos were sitting pretty as they started their second drive of the night at their own 6-yard line, however, a fumble on the first play was recovered by the Tigers and just one play later, Stevenson scored a 5-yard touchdown. After Austin Deters' kick for the extra point, Versailles led 7-0.
The Tigers got into the scoring action again with their first possession in the second quarter, when Stevenson sprinted 95 yards for a TD. After Deters scored the PAT, Versailles led 14-0 with 10:00 remaining in the first half.
With 4:11 left in the second quarter, California quarterback Kaleb Borghardt hit Adam Burger with a pass to score an 18-yard TD. Borghardt connected with Mitchell Cox for the two-point conversion, and the Pintos trailed 20-8.
The Tigers answered with a drive that resulted in a 6-yard touchdown by Stevenson with 39 seconds left in the first half. Deters' kick for the extra point was blocked by Cox, and the Tigers led 20-8 at halftime.
California's opening drive in the second half resulted in a 1-yard TD by Cody Schnieders. The two-point conversion attempt failed and the Pintos trailed 20-14 with 50 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Pintos cashed in on a Tiger turnover with 10:36 remaining in the third quarter when senior Pedro Corona recovered the fumble to leave the Pintos to start their drive at the Versailles 22-yard line. On the second play from scrimmage, as quarterback Corey Kramel was rushed, he got the pass off to freshman Jonathan Goans, who ran it in for a 22-yard touchdown. The kick for the extra point failed, but the Pintos had evened up the score at 20-20.
With 5:30 left to play, Versailles' Steven Vinyard returned Rowles' punt for a 55-yard touchdown. Deters' kick failed, but Versailles had the lead back, 26-20.
The Pintos countered with a 10-play possession that resulted in a 7-yard touchdown by Walter Juarez.
Rowles then stepped up for probably his most important PAT kick of the season, and nailed it.
California led 27-26 with 2:19 remaining.
The Pinto defense then stepped it up to hold the Tigers back in their final drive of the game, which included a quarterback sack by Corona, and a costly personal foul against the Tigers. With 25 seconds left to play, the Pintos took over on downs and Kramel took a knee.
What a sweet victory.
The Pintos had 37 carries for 213 rushing yards led by Juarez with 12 carries for 79 yards. Schnieders followed with nine carries for 46 yards. California completed 7 of 19 passes for 121 yards.
The Tigers had 42 carries for 311 rushing yards. Stevenson led Versailles with 26 carries for 224 yards, followed by quarterback Maurice Moyer with nine carries for 59 yards. Moyer completed 3 of 13 passes for 18 yards.
The Pintos will host the Eldon Mustangs at 7 p.m. Friday, which is also California's Senior Night, at Riley Field.
"If we beat Eldon and Boonville beats Versailles, we're in the playoffs," Johnston said. "Eldon will be ready to play us, so we have to be prepared."