Tuesday, November 24, 2015 • 02:12

Defensive stand gives Jaguars a close football win over Brawley

"Cardiac Cats" take second consecutive game in thrilling fashion

With two consecutive close calls the Jaguars are doing their best to keep head coach Rob Gilster on his toes. Photos by Ray Flores
September 10, 2013
For the second week in a row, the fate of the Valley Center High School football game hung in the balance with only six seconds left on the clock.

And for the second week in a row, head coach Rob Gilster and the Jaguars walked off the field as winners, though both the coach and the team didn't walk away unscathed.

"I've got a headache, and for a while there, I thought I was going to black out," Coach Gilster said with a tired chuckle after his team held on through an exhausting final drive to defeat Brawley 17–13 at home on Friday night.

The Jags scored a touchdown and added a field goal in the first half and the defense shut out the run-oriented Wildcat offense, giving Valley Center a ten-point lead at the break.

But Brawley came roaring back with 13 unanswered points in the second half to take a three-point lead in the fourth quarter.

The Jaguars re-took the lead with five minutes to go when Daniel DeLeon ran a quarterback sneak in for a three-yard touchdown, putting his team up 17–13, but with a lot of time still on the clock.

The Wildcats took to the air to try to get one more score, but the Valley Center defense came up with the big plays it needed to hang on for the win.

Watch more footage from the game at Sports Editor Dan Kidder's YouTube channel.

After poking fun at the physical toll the game took on himself, Coach Gilster turned serious when he spoke about the injuries that befell the Jaguars during the game.

Top receiver and cornerback Anthony Ricks briefly left the game in the first half with a sore ankle after getting tackled, but returned a few plays later with tape on his ankle. He came back for the second half without the ankle tape, but was limping noticeably on the field, and played only on offense until the final minutes.

Brad Dozier took a huge hit (watch online) and suffered a concussion, rendering him unable to finish the game.
Also in the second half, on the same offensive series, the Jaguars lost a pair of offensive weapons. The first to go down was receiver Jared Gilster, who absorbed a thumping tackle with his right shoulder and reportedly suffered a broken collarbone.

Then, just five plays later, starting running back Brad Dozier caught a long pass and took a big hit that knocked his helmet off. Dozier reportedly suffered a concussion on the play and did not return to the game.

"That's six positions right there," Coach Gilster said of the trio of two-way players. "We had to move guys around and bring guys up who haven't played much. We had (Dustin) Dendy switching to defense, (Josh) Lucas playing more of an H-back position, Jacob (Cunningham) running the ball more, and Caleb (Kim), a guy who wasn't going to play, now he's out there winning games for us. It was a great team win because guys stepped up and made plays when we had to have them."

Perhaps the most crucial play of the game came on the final Valley Center drive of the night, a drive that resulted in the game-winning touchdown.

Five plays before DeLeon's touchdown run, the Jaguars faced fourth-and-six at the Brawley 45-yard line. On third down, DeLeon had tried to hit Ricks on a slant, but the pass came in a little bit behind the receiver and was knocked away. Coach Gilster called in the same play for fourth down, and DeLeon delivered to Ricks, who fought through the pain in his ankle to make the catch and move the chains.

"I put the team on my back because I wanted it so bad for them," Ricks said of the catch. "All I could think was just 'catch the ball.' I knew Daniel would put it there and the offensive line did an amazing job blocking in front of him to let him get the pass away."

DeLeon finished with 12 completions on 18 attempts for 109 yards and a touchdown through the air. He also added six rushes for eight yards and a touchdown on the ground.

His favorite target was Ricks, who hauled in five passes for 53 yards and a score, while Lucas had three catches for 31 yards, Gilster had two receptions for 16 yards, Dozier caught one pass for seven yards and Cunningham had one catch for three yards.

On the ground, Dozier racked up 64 yards on 12 carries before his injury. Then Cunningham took over and carried the ball 11 times for 42 yards.

Valley Center opened the game with an outstanding drive that spanned 53 yards in seven plays and ended with a 15-yardtouchdown pass from DeLeon to Ricks (watch online). The score put the Jaguars up 7–0 with 9:27 left in the first quarter.

Brawley ran the ball on nine of its first ten plays and seemed to be finding success with the toss play in picking up a pair of first downs. But on a fourth-and-nine from the Valley Center 36, Derikie Blaze slashed through the line and broke up the sweep for a three-yard loss to turn the ball over on downs.

The Valley Center offense responded with another scoring drive, but instead of a touchdown, they settled for a 35-yard field goal by Dano Da Silva that gave them a 10–0 lead with 9:28 left in the second quarter.

Brawley punted on its next possession, and the Jaguars once again drove down the field but couldn't convert on a third down.

As the clock started to run out on the first half, the Jags tried to move downfield for another score, but were hampered by penalties and injuries. First came Gilster's injury on a catch on third-and-nine that kept the drive alive, but cost the Jags one of their top receiving threats.

Then, five plays later, DeLeon threw a great pass down the seam to Dozier, who hauled it in and held on through a violent collision inside the five-yard line that knocked off his helmet and cut his chin. Not only did the play result in an injury to the starting running back, it ended up getting called back on a holding penalty.

With nine seconds left before halftime, the Jags tried a 47-yard field goal that came up just short, keeping the score 10–0 at halftime.

Brawley opened the second half with its first scoring drive of the game, as the Wildcats marched 65 yards in 11 plays, ten of which were runs, to score on an eight-yard touchdown run. The Jaguars blocked the extra point, however, keeping the score 10–6 with 5:40 remaining in the third quarter.

Valley Center went three-and-out on its first drive of the second half, and after taking the punt, Brawley put together another scoring drive.

This one covered 72 yards in eight plays and once again featured only one throw, this time a halfback pass. The Wildcats scored on a four-yard touchdown run to take a 13–10 lead with 10:43 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Trailing for the first time in the game, the Jaguars mounted an answering drive that covered 61 yards in 13 plays, culminating in DeLeon's three-yard quarterback sneak that gave the Jaguars a 17–13 lead with 5:07 left in the game.

On Brawley's final drive, the ball moved forward and backward through a series of big plays and penalties on both sides.

First, the Wildcats had trouble corralling a high, blooper of a kickoff before finally recovering the loose ball at their own 22.

On first down, the Wildcats threw a pass down the sideline, but Ricks jumped in front of the pass and nearly got an interception. Three plays later, Brawley went for it on fourth-and-eight with 4:10 on the clock and the quarterback spun and weaved his way through the defense for a first down.

Two plays after that, the Wildcats threw another long pass down the sideline to big receiver Donovin Buck, a senior tight end listed at six-foot-five, 200 pounds. Buck hauled in the pass at the Valley Center 11, but the referees called him for offensive pass interference when he pushed off of replacement cornerback Caleb Kim just as the ball arrived.

Ricks stuffed the Brawley runner in the backfield on the ensuing play, but the Wildcats completed a pass for nine yards one play later.

Facing a fourth-and-15, the Valley Center defense came up with a big play that looked to have wrapped up the game when Larry Wheeler smashed through the line and sacked the quarterback at the Brawley 21. But the flags flew once again and the referees called Wheeler for a face mask penalty (watch online) that gave the Wildcats another chance with a fourth-and-nine from their own 36.

They completed a pass to the 45 for a first down, then threw another pass that was almost intercepted by Ricks, then completed a pass deep down the right-hand sideline to Buck at the 14-yard line with 44 seconds left in the game.

Garrett Castner came up with another big play on defense, as he sacked the quarterback at the 24, and the Jaguars accepted a holding penalty on Brawley to move the Wildcats back to the 33.

On first-and-29, Dendy careened through a gap in the line on a blitz and drilled the quarterback for a big sack at the 40. Brawley, out of timeouts, hustled back to the line and spiked the ball with six seconds left.

On the final play of the game (watch online), the Wildcats once again sent Buck deep down the field, and despite double coverage, he managed to out-jump the defense and bring in the pass. But the clock expired as he was knocked to the ground at the four-yard line and the game was over.

"There's something about you guys that you know how to win," Coach Gilster told the team after the game. "We've got to be ready to go in because you never know when your number is going to be called. That's a really good team we just beat, and we beat them with guys who didn't expect to play. That's one of the best wins we've ever had as a team."

"I'm extremely proud of our backups," Ricks added. "Guys stepped up in ways that I'm sure they never imagined, and they did an amazing job. There's something about us, we just know how to win. We're going to have to keep going hard in practice and finishing strong every day, because with us, you never know when you're going to need it."

The Jaguars play again on Friday at La Jolla at 7 p.m.

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