Pintos football falls to Odessa in District Championship

End season 9-3; Best record since 2014

Democrat photo/Evan Holmes Senior wide receiver Ayden Bryant leaps into the end zone for a 50-yard touchdown in the first half against the Odessa Bulldogs in Friday's district championship game.

For the first time since 2014, the California Pintos football team played in a district championship game.

The Friday match was against the Odessa Bulldogs, who the Pintos defeated in the 1997 state tournament.

The Pintos began the game on defense against a high-octane Odessa offense. California held the Bulldogs to a 27-yard field goal on their first drive. However, on the ensuing kickoff, the Pintos fumbled the kickoff and the Bulldogs recovered it, giving way to a touchdown for the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs added another touchdown three and a half minutes later, leading 17-0 with 2:29 remaining in the first quarter.

Although shackled on offense for most of the first quarter, California broke through on a third-and-long in the closing seconds of the quarter. Under pressure, California quarterback Walker Friedmeyer found senior wide receiver Ayden Bryant with a pass down the middle. Bryant ran past the Odessa defense all the way to the end zone for a 50-yard touchdown. The Pintos scored the extra point to get on the board just before the end of the first quarter. Odessa led 17-7 after the first quarter.

With just over six minutes left in the second quarter, the Pintos defense forced a fumble and recovered the loose ball in Odessa territory. The Pintos managed to get to the Bulldogs' 10-yard line and were on the verge of making it a one-possession game. However, the Pintos turned the ball over on a bad lateral pass that was recovered by the Bulldogs. Odessa turned the turnover into an 87-yard drive that ended in a touchdown in the final two minutes of the half. The Bulldogs led at halftime 24-7.

In the third quarter, the Pintos cut further into the Bulldogs' lead. After completing third and fourth downs, Bryant scored his second touchdown of the game on a 37-yard touchdown run. The Bulldogs blocked the extra point and held a 24-13 lead with 8:03 remaining in the third quarter.

But just as they had done all game long, Odessa kept the Pintos at arm's length by scoring their fourth touchdown on their final offensive play of the third quarter.

Midway through the fourth quarter with their season on the line, California made a late-game charge when quarterback Friedmeyer found junior running back Brooks Volkart in the back of the end zone on a five-yard touchdown pass. Junior Jace Schreck completed the two-point conversion to make the score 31-21.

The Pintos defense came up with a stop and got another chance for a score with three and a half minutes left. However, the Pintos were unable to complete a fourth down to keep the drive alive. The turnover on downs put the Bulldogs in good field position to score the game-sealing touchdown. When the final buzzer sounded, the Bulldogs reigned victorious over the Pintos 38-21 to win the district title and end California's season. The Pintos' final record is 9-3.

Despite falling short of their first district championship since 2014, new head coach Kenny Grubb led the Pintos to their best season since that year and said he enjoyed every moment of the season. Grubb also said he hasn't been a part of a team in his coaching career that has found more ways to win than with this year's Pintos.

"There's so many things to be proud of and it's hard right now," Grubb said. "These young men are hurting and it's going to be awful hard on them. But I couldn't be more prouder of these kids. They respected the game, they respected each other and we played the game the way it's supposed to be played. That's what I want California football to be like. I don't know if I could've asked for a better first season with this program. The journey was well worth it."

photo Democrat photo/Evan Holmes Senior wide receiver Ayden Bryant led the Pintos offensive with two touchdowns in the Class 3 District 7 championship game on Friday.
photo Democrat photo/Evan Holmes Junior running back Brooks Volkart makes a difficult catch in the end zone for a Pintos touchdown in the fourth quarter.
photo Democrat photo/Evan Holmes Senior defensive back Collin Althoff was California's lead tackler in Friday's district championship game against the Odessa Bulldogs.
photo Democrat photo/Evan Holmes Junior running back Brooks Volkart takes a handoff and runs the ball up the sideline for a Pintos first down.
photo Democrat photo/Evan Holmes Junior running back Tyler Oden runs up the middle for a first down against the Odessa Bulldogs' defense.
photo Democrat photo/Evan Holmes The California High School Marching Band performed during halftime of Friday's game between the Pintos and the Bulldogs.
photo Democrat photo/Evan Holmes The California band clarinet players help the Pintos Marching Band during their halftime performance