After Bradshaw Christian’s football team held its post-game talk on the field at Center High School on Nov. 22, Pride coach Drew Rickert immediately looked for one player who had played in his last high school playoff game.
“Where’s Jeremiah?” Rickert called out, his eyes scanning the scattered players walking to join their families.
He found Jeremiah Bonner-Hayes, a senior running back who had tears in his eyes, much like a few of his teammates, and embraced him as he gave him some final post-game words.
Center beat Bradshaw Christian 47-12 to end the Pride’s seven-game win streak and Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoff run after a first half that featured 35 points from the Cougars while limiting a Pride offense that had averaged 45.5 points per game in its last four games.
Rickert quickly acknowledged Center’s skill after the game while taking care to highlight his team’s effort as well.
“First of all, that’s an unbelievable team right now. They’re going to do really well in section. I thought my kids battled and that’s all I asked from them. I thought we were a little out-manned tonight and that’s the way it goes but we never stop, we never quit and that’s the thing these kids should be proud of themselves for,” Rickert said afterward.
This year was just Bradshaw Christian’s second year in the Sierra Valley Conference but they flourished, winning the SVC Championship undefeated and earning the fourth seed in the D V playoffs, which gave them a first-round bye.
The Pride finished the year 9-3 while first seed Center will play second seed Ripon in the title game Saturday at noon.
The Pride saw early on that it’d need to be nearly perfect to have a chance against Center, who pounced on every opportunity it had, including an interception by Brandon Fernandes with 10:49 left deep in Bradshaw Christian territory that ended up at the eight-yard line.
The play occurred after the Cougars had opened the game with a Michael Wortham 65-yard touchdown run in the first minute and the interception eventually led to Fernandes scoring on a touchdown pass by Wortham.
The Pride quickly closed in, however, as Evan Zeppieri scored on five-yard run with 7:20 remaining for a 14-6 score.
Center would end the quarter with a 21-6 lead after Wortham threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Latrell Harris.
A sack by the Cougars led to the Pride punting near the start of the second quarter and the Cougards scored on a five-yard run by Wortham with 6:33 left and added a touchdown on an 85-yard run by Wortham that left the Pride trailing 35-6 at halftime.
Zeppieri scored again on a run with 8:58 left for a 35-12 game but Wortham again found Fernandes with 54 seconds left to end the quarter ahead 41-12.
Fernandes scored on another reception with 9:32 left in the game and the Cougars would intercept the ball to take away a final scoring drive from the Pride.
“We got a bunch of kids that play hard and play for each other. We thought we could be close and make a game of it and that’s quarterback’s unbelievable,” Rickert said of Wortham. “That kid is special and he just ran through us and made some big plays. Their defense stopped us enough and I felt like we did a couple turnovers ourselves that hurt us but they played great tonight.”
When asked about the level of talent available for the Pride for next season, Rickert said the future should have a lot to which the team can look forward.
“We have underclassmen that are really good this year, we’re really excited about a group coming up. We have a bunch of kids coming up. I think we’re going to be very solid still, it’s just hard when you’re a small school in Division V, Division VI and half of Division VII and to put us up here in D V is tough but I’ll tell you I’ll take these kids any day, I think we have a good group coming up as well.”