Yucaipa dims Fontana’s playoff hopes

Written by Bob on November 1st, 2009

Fontana’s Lonnie Pettegrew churns for yardage as Yucaipa’s Tyler Swinford tries to make the tackle.
By BOB OTTO / Writer & Photographer

YUCAIPA, CA – Fontana linebacker Richard Thorpe and quarterback Manuel Salgado were frustrated and disappointed after Friday’s game with the Yucaipa Thunderbirds.

It was a game in which the Steelers matched the Thunderbirds hit for hit, and play for play in the first half – trailing just 7-0 when the two teams left the field at half-time.

It was a game in which fourth place in the Citrus Belt League was on the line.

It was a game in which the outcome would go far in determining which team would advance into the post-season CIF playoffs.

But it was also a game in which the Thunderbirds outplayed and outscored the Steelers in the second half to post a 27-6 victory.

“We played hard but not good enough in the second half,” said Thorpe, who led the Steelers with 10 tackles. “We had trouble with their passing game and we missed too many tackles. That has killed us all season.”

Although, Salgado had a good night completing 11-of-16 passing attempts for 120 yards, he had no touchdowns and one interception. But much more telling, Fontana could generate little in its running game. The big and punishing Yucaipa defensive line and linebacker corps held the Steelers to just 22 total rushing yards.

But still the Steelers battled Yucaipa even in the first half. It’s the second half that frustrated Salgado.

“Everything clicked in the first half, and when we came out (to start the second half) it was still anybody’s ball game,” said Salgado, who was held to a –3 yards rushing on 8 carries. “But we didn’t keep up with their tempo. They played at another level and we didn’t.”

Yucaipa took the game’s opening kickoff and marched down the field behind the running of Brandon Leach and the running and passing of quarterback Wyatt Padgett. Yucaipa milked the clock for nearly six minutes and scored on Leach’s three-yard plunge up the middle to take a 7-0 lead with Gerrardo Delgadillo’s point after.

But the Steelers came right back and in 16 plays reached Yucaipa’s 19-yard line only to see the drive stall on a fourth down attempt at the Yucaipa 13.

After holding Yucaipa on its next possession, Fontana again moved the ball well and reached Yucaipa’s 14 on a pass from Salgado to Brandon Paul.

And the Steelers were in good position to score. But on first down, Yucaipa’s Alex Embernate, a 295-pound, 6-foot-3, defensive lineman killed the drive by leaping high in the air to pick off a deflected pass with 39 seconds left in the second quarter.

“We had the opportunities to get a couple of touchdowns, but we didn’t get them, and that made the difference,” said Fontana Head Coach, Lance Ozier. “Then in the second half we made mistakes. Maybe four or five times we snapped the ball on the ground. We had the plays set up, but we just didn’t execute.”

Yucaipa scored on its first two possessions in the third quarter to take a 20-0 lead, high lighted by Tyler Swinford’s 71-yard touchdown run.

Fontana broke the shutout with 2:21 left in the game when quarterback, Palmer Pitts (4-of-8, 98 yards, and one touchdown), connected with Antwione Holmes for a 75-yard touchdown down the right sideline.

The game was marred by penalties, bad snaps, and fumbles by both teams. Twice when Yucaipa fumbled, Fontana was unable to recover the ball. And Yucaipa’s second fumble recovery resulted in a 14-0 Yucaipa lead early in the third quarter.

With the ball bouncing lose on Fontana’s 35, Padgett pounced on the ball and one play later he connected with Brian Derryberry for a 30-yard touchdown.

“They made the big plays and we didn’t make the recoveries when they put the ball on the ground,” Ozier said.

With the loss, Fontana’s playoff hopes now depend on some help with two games remaining in league play.

“We controlled our destiny coming into this game,” Ozier said. “Now, we don’t control it anymore. We’ve got to hope for some other (teams) to help us and we’ve got to win ourselves.”

And that starts Friday at Rialto Carter. The Lions (2-3 league, 3-5 overall) are currently tied with Yucaipa in fourth place in the eight-team CBL. The fifth-place Steelers find themselves in a must win situation. They must knock off Carter and then Rialto (0-5, 0-8) in their final game on Nov. 13 for any chance of finishing fourth and securing the league’s final playoff spot.

And as Ozier said, the Steelers no longer control their own destiny. They need help from Eisenhower (1-4, 1-7) and Carter. The final two teams on Yucaipa’s schedule. If the Steelers win out, and Eisenhower and Carter defeat Yucaipa, then Fontana’s in the playoffs.

“We still have a chance,” Salgado said. “We don’t quit. That’s the one thing Steelers don’t do.”

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Redlands East Valley 5-0
Redlands 5-0
Fontana A.B. Miller 4-1
Yucaipa 2-3
Rialto Carter 2-3
Fontana 1-4
Eisenhower 1-4
Rialto 0-5

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