For two months, Del Oro played with its season on the line — and just kept winning.
By TREVOR HORN | Contributor
Coach Casey Taylor and his Del Oro-Loomis football team has been playing elimination football since October, so it seemed quite fitting that the Golden Eagles would make the most of the 300-mile trip to Bakersfield with a shot at a state title game on the line.
In the CIF Northern California Division 2AA regional game at Liberty-Bakersfield, Del Oro, which never led the entire game, scored the game-winning touchdown on a four-yard quarterback keeper by Stone Smartt with just 22 seconds left in regulation of a 28-24 win. Del Oro —despite a pedestrian record of 9-6 — advances to play Camarillo (15-0) for the CIF Div. 2AA State Bowl title at 4 p.m. on Dec. 18 at Sacramento State.
It will be the second state-bowl title game appearance in the last three years for the Golden Eagues. It was fitting that the team punched its ticket in Bakersfield, since Del Oro lost to the famed Bakersfield High Drillers in the 2013 Div. I state bowl game just two years ago.
“Our kids just played hard all night,” Taylor said. “Liberty is a great team, one of the best we’ve played all year. Guys just kept fighting and we knew we had to play 48 minutes and believe in it.”
That’s saying a lot of the Patriots, the Central Section Div. I champions, after the schedule the Golden Eagles played this season.
Three of Del Oro’s six losses this season came to teams which qualified for regional bowls, two of which advanced to a state bowl. First it was a heartbreaking 34-31 loss to Bellarmine-San Jose on Sept. 11, followed by a loss to Folsom the first week of October. Then came the 41-3 loss to De La Salle-Concord on Oct. 23. Bellarmine will represent the North in the CIF Div. I State Bowl and De La Salle will be playing in the Open Division tilt.
That loss to the Spartans left Del Oro with a 2-6 record heading into the final two Sierra Foothill League games needing to win out or go home.
The Golden Eagles decided on the former.
Winners of seven consecutive games, including a 30-20 win over Rocklin — a team that beat Del Oro 28-3 in league play — for the SJS Div. II title, Del Oro will prep for its third state bowl title game in the past eight seasons under Taylor.
Early on in the regional game, that shot didn’t seem so realistic. Liberty led 21-7 midway through the third quarter on a 41-yard touchdown strike from Jordan Love to Quincy Jountti that felt like a driving force for the Patriots. Jountti was able to run over two Del Oro defenders into the end zone for the score.
Then the script flipped.
Smartt, 18 of 31 passing for 222 yards, scored his first of two rushing touchdowns later in the third before Camiron Davis scooted through the Liberty defense for a 17-yard scoring run and just like that, the game was tied 21-21 with momentum on Del Oro’s side for the first time in the game.
“When we get ahead, a lot of teams realize they are outmatched,” Liberty receiver Matthew Hubble said. “But they kept fighting. I tip my hat to them.”
Liberty took a 24-21 lead on a Ronnie Ochoa field goal with six minutes left in the game. After both teams traded punts, Del Oro took over with 2:19 left and 84 yards to go. That is when Smartt, who threw two interceptions in the game, turned into legendary mode.
The junior and first-year starter for Del Oro went 6-for-7 for 66 yards on the final drive. Smartt continued to toss pin-point passes to Mason Hurst and Justin Burrage for 10 yards here, 11 yards there, all while Colorado-commit Trey Udoffia was limited in action with an ankle sprain. Hurst finished with a game-high 104 receiving yards and caught a highlight-reel one-handed touchdown pass in the second quarter.
“Stone made some great throws and runs,” Taylor said. “That was a great quality team right there. We had a hard time and I’m proud of our guys for not quitting.”
Smartt’s touchdown saved the season once again, something that seems like the norm for the Golden Eagles.
Udoffia did have an interception earlier in the game and was emotional following the final whistle.
“I don’t know what to say,” Udoffia said. “Me and Stone are like brothers. For him to do something like that and for us to (start) 2-6 and we are going to state now, it’s why I love this school. People doubted us.”
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