After suffering their first defeat of the season at the hands of the Blair Oaks Falcons, the California High School Pintos returned to action Friday on the road against another tough conference opponent, the School of the Osage Indians. The Pintos were able to stave off a late comeback attempt and defeat the Indians 36-34, improving to 3-1 on the season.
Both teams won their first two games before losing in week 3. The Pintos were defeated 61-35 by Blair Oaks, while the Indians were defeated 54-48 by Eldon.
The Pintos got off to another slow start on offense and the defense struggled to contain the Indians' running game, which was one California's greatest concerns coming into the evening. Osage capitalized on California's slow start by scoring the first points of the game on a 19-yard run. It would be the only score of the first quarter, and the Indians led 6-0 after twelve minutes of play.
In the second quarter, the Pintos broke the first quarter mold in a big way. Senior wide receiver Trevor Myers took off and found the end zone after catching a 34-yard pass from quarterback Calen Kruger. When kicker Adolfo Osio made the extra point, California took their first lead of the game at 7-6.
For the rest of the quarter, the Pintos' defense stole the spotlight and paved way for the offense to hit its stride. California's defense forced Osage into three turnovers in the second quarter and scored 17 points off of those turnovers. In addition, the Pintos' defense neutralized the Indians' track meet-style run game and held Osage scoreless for the rest of the half. The Pintos headed into the locker room with a 23-6 lead.
After scoring two touchdowns on their first two possessions of the second half, the Pintos took a 36-6 lead and had scored 36 unanswered points. After taking a 36-14 lead into the fourth quarter, the Pintos were 12 minutes away from their third victory of the season.
Then, out of nowhere, the Pintos went cold and the Indians caught fire.
Osage went on to score three touchdowns in the span of seven minutes, including a 78-yard rushing touchdown. All of a sudden, the Pintos' 36-6 lead was now 36-34.
On the Pintos' next possession, senior running back Enoch Dunnaway fumbled the ball in their own territory and the Indians recovered it with just more than 1:30 left in the game. With 56 seconds left on the clock, the Indians had the ball on the Pintos' 25-yard line on a fourth and eleven.
The comeback was not to be. Osage's pass was intercepted by sophomore Ayden Bryant, securing a Pintos victory. California escaped with a 36-34 win.
Pintos head coach Seth Womack was satisfied with the win, but not with the team's performance in the second half.
"It's a question we're going to ask ourselves and our players. We've going to have to figure out what the trigger for them is from the first second to the last second," Womack said. "We came out slow in the first half and in the second half; we just didn't show up."
There were many keys that pointed to a victory for California, in particular the 17 points tacked on off of turnovers in the second quarter alone. Little did the Pintos know that they would need every one of them.
"We talk about that with our kids. We try to do that every game. We stretched the turnover margin," Womack said. "Teams that get the ball away from the other team are usually the ones that win."
Womack also said the Pintos are nowhere near where they need to be, and they have to figure out a way to play their style of football for four quarters. With the season approaching the halfway point, the schedule becomes harder and the competition will become more intense.
The Pintos are currently in a three-way tie for second place in the Tri-County Conference with Blair Oaks and Boonville, with a 3-1 record. Hallsville currently sits in first place at 4-0.
California will return home this Friday, after two weeks on the road, for a showdown with the Boonville Pirates, who are coming off a stunning upset win Blair Oaks last week.
"It will be nice to get back home for sure," Womack said. "Our fans better be ready, because we're coming back home!"