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story.lead_photo.caption Democrat photo/Evan HolmesThe Pintos enter the field Friday night as they are treated to a round of applause from their fans.

Excitement was in the air on Friday night when California High School football went head to head with a long-time rival — Blair Oaks High School. The night was full of anticipation for multiple reasons, not only because it was a rivalry game, but also the Pintos' first conference game with Seth Womack as their head coach.

However, when the dust settled, the Pintos had come up short. Despite a couple of successful drives from the Pintos in the second half, Blair Oaks continued their winning streak against California and defeated the Pintos 61-35. California drops to 2-1 on the season so far.

But before the game began, both teams paid tribute to the memory of those who lost their lives in the tragedies in Afghanistan and on Sept. 11, 2001. Thirteen members of each team stood on their respective 40-yard line and presented 13 flags. Once the flags were presented, everyone in attendance took 13 seconds of silence for the 13 victims of the airport tragedy in Afghanistan. Then, they took 20 seconds of silence for the 20th anniversary of 9-11. Once the flags were placed and respects were paid, the game got underway.

Blair Oaks, the defending Class 2 State Champions, wasted no time in grabbing the early lead. Within the first two minutes and twenty seconds, the Falcons scored two touchdowns on three plays and raced out to a 15-0 lead. After their sluggish start on defense, the Pintos began to hit their stride on offense, thanks in part to switching the emphasis to their running game.

With just less than five minutes remaining in the first half, the Pintos were still scoreless and losing 22-0, but they broke through and got on the board courtesy of explosive sophomore Ayden Bryant. His 19-yard rushing touchdown made the score 22-7. The Pintos got the ball back before the end of the half with another chance to chip away at the Falcons' lead. With seven seconds remaining on third down, the Pintos came up with a momentum-changing play when Drake Schlup caught a pass from quarterback Calen Kruger and broke the plane of the end zone for a first half-ending touchdown. After a successful two point conversion, the Pintos were within one score of making the game level. The score at halftime was 23-15.

In the second half, the Pintos looked to hit the ground running off the momentum they gained at the end of the first half. Unfortunately, the Falcons had other plans and broke the game open with four touchdowns in the third quarter alone. At the end of the third quarter, Blair Oaks was firmly in command at 48-22. The Falcons stayed in the driver's seat for the remainder of the contest, giving the game its final score of 61-35.

Despite the tough loss, Pintos head coach Seth Womack was proud of the effort that his Pintos displayed, even when they were down by multiple possessions at multiple times.

"Our kids are never going to quit. I told them after the game that I was proud as heck of them. Not once did they ever put their heads down and stop competing," Womack said. "Most teams get down to Blair Oaks 14-0 in the first quarter and they roll over and quit. We didn't quit. I think more than anything, that's the most remarkable thing about our kids tonight."

Among the California players that made an impact in this Tri-County Conference rivalry was Bryant, who Coach Womack said is going to be one of the future stars of Pintos football. Along with his 19-yard score to put the Pintos on the board, he also added a 77-yard receiving touchdown in the second half.

"Ayden Bryant is a tough player. He's got a lot of football left in him, for sure," Womack said. "He's a young kid. He's a sophomore, so he's got a bright, bright future. I can't wait to see how he develops over the next couple of years."

It never feels good to lose a game, but Womack said he and the Pintos believe their performance on Friday night sent a message to the rest of the Tri-County Conference.

"I think more than anything, we let the others schools in the conference know that we're going to come to play," Womack said. "They wanted this game tonight. But sometimes, you play a really good team and we did tonight."

The Pintos will hit the road again Friday for another rivalry game at Lake Ozark when they take on School of the Osage. Both teams won their first two games and then lost in week three.

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