Saturday's Class 3 Quarterfinal game between California and McCluer South-Berkeley at Ferguson won't be forgotten anytime soon. It was a battle to the end, literally, that had fans on their feet amidst the rain and pummeling wind, pondering the final outcome because with under a minute to play, it was close enough to go either way. The Bulldogs had proven they weren't going down without a fight, as had the Pintos. Then, with just 3.6 seconds remaining, sophomore Aaron Cuevas sealed the deal for California when he kicked a 26-yard field goal to push the Pintos past the Bulldogs 26-24.
"Aaron's a great kicker and he had the wind at his back," California Coach Marty Albertson said. "We could've thrown, but a lot can happen. I was confident he would come through for us."
Moments before the kick, Cuevas said, "The whole team was on my mind. I was very nervous. Then I was relieved and happy when it was over."
"It was a fantastic game," Albertson said. "We played hard all four quarters. We got off to a good start, then we battled through adversity to get the job done. The fourth quarter reminded me of last year's game against Duchesne. Those yards were hard to come by."
Defensive Coach Geary Labuary added, "Our kids carried out their assignments and our game plan perfectly."
The Pintos got off to an early lead with a safety from the opening kickoff, followed by a 41-yard touchdown by Jerry Lutz. After Cuevas scored the PAT, California led 9-0 with 10:00 left in the first quarter.
California sophomore Landon Mouse had back-to-back interceptions to thwart two McCluer drives, then with 1:43 left in the first half, Luke Burger scored on a 5-yard run. Cuevas nailed the extra point and the Pintos led 16-0.
The Bulldogs answered with a 46-yard TD pass from LaMarko Ball to Eugene Irby. Andre Crump ran in the two-point conversion and McCluer trailed 16-8 with 25 seconds left in the second quarter.
California's opening possession of the third quarter was cut short with a fumble recovered by the Bulldogs, who scored on their next play via a 23-yard TD by Shaun Conway. Crump ran in the two-point conversion and the score was even at 16-16 with 10:06 left in the third quarter.
The Pintos answered with a 13-play, 63-yard drive that included a 35-yard pass from Jaden Barr to Drew Norton, capped with a 3-yard TD by Lutz. After Cuevas' PAT, the Pintos had the lead back at 23-16 with 4:34 left in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs ensued with a 6-play, 63-yard possession that ended with a 10-yard TD by Conway. After Crump scored the two-point conversion, McCluer led 24-23 with 2:36 remaining in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter included two turnovers. A Pinto drive resulted in an interception by McCluer's Manuel Cole with 4:58 left to play, however, the Bulldogs' next drive ended with an interception by Mouse with 3:42 remaining. The Pintos ensued with their most crucial possession of the game, starting at their own 43-yard line. On the second play, Barr connected with Jon Goans on a 26-yard pass to move the Pintos to the Bulldogs' 26-yard line. Time was ticking away as the Pintos inched along, gaining five yards here, two yards there.
By the fourth down, the Pintos were at the 9-yard line. That's when Cuevas stepped in to kick the field goal, and the Pintos took the lead back, 26-24.
The Bulldogs managed to run two plays with the time that was left, with the final play resulting in an interception by Barr. A fitting end for the Pintos.
"We couldn't be more proud of our offensive line for playing so well and adjusting to McCluer's scramble defense," California senior Alexx Lewis said.
The Pintos had 50 carries for 257 yards and Barr completed 3 of 5 passes for 81 yards. Jon Goans had one reception for 26 yards, Dylan Albertson had one for 20 yards, and Drew Norton had one for 35 yards.
Lutz led California rushing with 15 carries for 89 yards. Albertson had 17 carries for 71 yards. Walker Borghardt had 14 carries for 66 yards.
The Bulldogs had 26 carries for 120 yards and Ball completed 5 of 12 passes for 87 yards.
Conway led McCluer rushing with 19 carries for 102 yards.
The Bulldogs had four turnovers, all interceptions, while the Pintos had two, a fumble and an interception.
Lutz led Pinto tackles with 11. Mouse followed with six and three interceptions. Nathan Goans and Brandan Gump each had five tackles. Jon Goans, Allan Burger and Barr each had four tackles. Barr also had an interception.
Senior Nathan Goans said, "We played as a team. Even when we were behind, we never gave up, we just kept pushing."
Now the Pintos (12-1 and #5 in Class 3) will have to face defending state champion Maryville (13-0 and #1 in Class 3) in semifinals Saturday. (Maryville defeated Oak Grove 42-20 in quarterfinal play Nov. 16 to advance.)
Last year, California lost the semifinal game to the Spoofhounds 42-7, at Maryville. This time around, however, it will be on California's turf at Riley Field.
Kickoff will be at 1:30 p.m.
"We have the advantage of playing at home," Albertson said. "We're going to play our hardest and give them all we've got. Hopefully that will be enough."
"We'll have to play the best game we've ever played," Labuary said. "Maryville is one heck of a group of athletes. We'll have to take some chances. You've got to play flawless to beat a team like Maryville."
The cost of admission is $6 for all ages, with no reserved seating and no passes allowed. Gates will open at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
"Riley Field will be secure and only people on the work list will be allowed entry before 10:30," CHS Athletic Director Bob Staton said.
Staton said any blankets or items placed on bleachers in an attempt to reserve seating prior to gates opening will be removed.
The winner of Saturday's game will play the winner of the other Class 3 Semifinal game (John Burroughs vs. Seneca) at 11 a.m. Nov. 30 at Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, for the state championship.