The California Pintos rallied for a last second win against the Oak Grove Panthers on Friday securing a position in the district championships for the first time in nine years.
After defeating the Clinton Cardinals in the opening round of the Class 3 District 7 playoffs, the #3 seed California Pintos football took on the #2 seed Oak Grove Panthers in the district semifinals. The two teams played each other once before in the playoffs back in the 2014 State Final Four, where Oak Grove defeated California 49-14.
Friday's game went back and forth for four quarters with California making the last score in the final seconds for a 40-39 victory. California's recent win will move the team to the district championship on Nov. 10.
The Pintos began the game on defense and quickly got a taste of Oak Grove's offense. The Panthers scored the first touchdown of the game in the first two minutes on a five play drive that ended with a 22-yard touchdown run. An offside penalty against the Pintos on the point after enabled the Panthers to go for a two-point conversion, but the Pintos defense came up with a stop to keep the score 6-0.
California responded with a touchdown of their own on their first drive, courtesy of an eight-yard touchdown run by senior Ayden Bryant. California then completed the point after to take a 7-6 lead.
The Pintos came up with the first big defensive play of the game late in the first quarter when senior offensive linebacker Chase Schlup forced a fumble. Fellow teammate Collin Althoff recovered to give the Pintos possession at their own 38-yard line.
On their first play of their new drive, junior running back Brooks Volkart took a handoff down the sideline for a 62-yard touchdown to give California a 14-6 lead. But just before the end of the quarter, California forced another fumble that was recovered by junior defensive end Richard Burger.
However, on the first play of the second quarter, California gave the ball back to the Panthers when a pass to the end zone was picked off. Oak Grove capitalized off the interception by scoring two touchdowns in the second quarter to take a 19-14 lead with just under three minutes to go in the first half.
The Pintos got one more chance for a score before the half and capitalized on the opportunity with a 35-yard touchdown run by junior running back Tyler Oden. Oden's score put California ahead 22-19 going into the half after a successful two-point conversion.
Midway through the third quarter with California still ahead by three, Oak Grove pulled off another touchdown drive to take the lead again at 26-22.
The Panthers' defense had the Pinto' offense on the ropes with a third-and-long from their own 42-yard line. Pintos quarterback Walker Friedmeyer took the snap but was unable to find a open receiver. Friedmeyer had to call his own number and found an opening along the sideline. Taking the ball all the way to end zone for a 58-yard improvisation touchdown. This play gave California the lead back at 29-26.
Just before the end of the third quarter, California linebacker Collin Althoff forced Oak Grove's third fumble of the game and recovered the loose ball to give the Pintos another possession. However, the possession ended in a turnover on downs on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Panthers capitalized with their turnover on downs by scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a three-yard touchdown run with 9:22 to go in the game.
The Pintos took the ball into Panthers territory trailing 33-29, but faced a dilemma when their opponents forced them into a fourth and goal at the Oak Grove 11-yard line with three minutes left in the game. Pintos head coach Kenny Grubb made the desicion to go for a 28-yard field goal to make it a one-point game. Kicker Max Blecke made the field goal and kept the Pintos alive.
After a 50-yard touchdown run with 1:14 to go, the Panthers missed the extra point and gave California one last chance with the score 39-32.
The Pintos had to begin the drive at their own 32-yard line with two timeouts. California defied the odds and got the ball down to the Oak Grove 18-yard line with 21 seconds left and out of timeouts. On a first-and-ten from the 18-yard line, California quarterback Walker Friedmeyer threw a short pass to junior running back Brooks Volkart.
Volkart ran towards the far left corner of the end zone, dove for the pylon and broke the plain of the end zone for a touchdown with four seconds left. California had another choice to go for one extra point to tie or a two-point conversion to take the lead. Grubb choice to go for two points for the win. Friedmeyer took the snap and threw a jet sweep pass to junior running back Tyler Oden, who dove for the end zone and broke the plain like teammate Brooks Volkart.
Oden reached the end zone to complete the two-point conversion and gave the Pintos the lead with four seconds to play. The Pintos were able to stop Oak Grove's last chance on the ensuing kickoff to pull off a 40-39 miracle victory over the Panthers.
In their win over the Oak Grove Panthers, California had 379 total yards of offense on 59 total plays with 336 rushing yards and 43 passing yards. The Pintos went 4/1o on their down and 1-2 on fourth down. The Pintos also committed two turnovers with eight penalties for 41 yards.
Senior quarterback Walker Friedmeyer threw 4/7 for 43 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Friedmeyer also ran for 103 yards on 13 carries with a touchdown. Junior running back Tyler Oden ran for a season-high 135 yards on 20 carries with a touchdown and the game-winning two-point conversion. Junior running back Brooks Volkart ran for 68 yards on five carries with a rushing touchdown. Volkart also had one reception for 18 yards, but the reception ended in a touchdown. Senior wide receiver Ayden Bryant ran for 30 yards on six carries with a rushing touchdown. Bryant also had two receptions for 21 yards. Pintos defenders Collin Althoff, Lance Clevenger and Richard Burger each had a fumble recovery.
Pintos head coach Kenny Grubb called Friday's win one of the top five wins in his coaching career. Grubb gave high praise to players like Friedmeyer, Oden, Volkart, Schlup, Owen Pringer and others for their roles in a victory that came down to the final play.
"I kept telling these kids before and after the game that it's going to be a punch and counter punch type of game. It's going to come down to who's going to get a decision and you're going to have to fight until the very end. Can we get a decision? With four seconds on the clock, we found a way," Grubb said. "I'm not sure what else they could've done. I think they were probably better defensively in the second half than we were. Offensively, both teams were just mirror images of each other. When it came down to the field goal, I thought that since we were down by four at that point, all we couldn't do at that point was lose yardage. We didn't get the ball in great spot on that last drive, but we found a way."
With the Oak Grove Panthers now behind them, the Pintos go for their first district championship since 2014 on Friday night against the Odessa Bulldogs. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. from Odessa High School.