Yucaipa fumbles and Rialto Carter big play defense sends the Lions into the playoffs

Written by Bob on November 14th, 2009

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Photo By BOB OTTO

YUCAIPA, CA – The chant on the Rialto Carter side grew louder as game time neared: “Playoffs! Playoffs! Playoffs!” shouted a large group of Carter fans.

And for Carter, the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) football playoffs indeed became a reality. The Lions special teams and four fumble recoveries, propelled Carter to a 28-7 victory over the Yucaipa Thunderbirds at Yucaipa, Friday night before a large and boisterous homecoming crowd.

PLAYOFFS AT STAKE
Both teams came into the game tied in fourth place in the eight-team Citrus Belt League with 3-3 records. The winner would claim the league’s fourth playoff spot and advance into the post season, while the loser’s season would come to an end.

The Lions (5-5, 4-3) showed in the game’s opening kick off that its “big play” speed would be a challenge for the Thunderbirds (5-5, 3-4) to contend with.

Mathew Williams scooped up Yucaipa’s opening game kick off at his own 3-yard line, and raced down the left field sideline for a 97-yard touchdown return to give the Lions a 6-0 lead that would hold through the first half.

LOST CHANCES
Yucaipa had ample scoring opportunities in the first half. Twice the Thunderbirds drove within the Lions’ 10-yard line only to come up empty. And three times they fumbled the ball away – once on a kick off, and twice when they had driven within the Lions’ 20, threatening to score.

Yucaipa Head Coach, John Hallenbeck, was clearly unhappy with his team’s performance in such an important game.

“They wanted it more than we did,” Hallenbeck said as his team left the field and Carter continued to celebrate.

The win was especially sweet for Lions’ Head Coach, Alex Pierce, in his second season coaching Carter. Pierce was an assistant coach at Yucaipa before he took over the Carter reins.

“Big plays, especially big plays on special teams were huge,” said Pierce, whose wife is an assistant principal in the Yucaipa school district. “Fumbles swung the momentum our way.”

ANYONE’S BALL GAME
Although trailing, 6-0, at half time, the Thunderbirds were still in great position to secure its fourth-consecutive CIF playoffs berth.

Especially when Dylan Malone took the opening second half kick off and raced down the right side line in front of screaming hometown fans for an 87-yard touchdown return, giving the Thunderbirds a 7-6 lead.

But Carter shocked Yucaipa once again, when Damian Robinson – the CBL’s leading rusher with 1,347 yards – took the ensuing kick off and countered Malone with his own 81-yard score.

“He’s our guy,” Pierce said. “We are going to give him the rock (27 carries for 93 yards). Good things happen when he has the ball. He can turn little scampers into big gains.”

QUICK TURN AROUND
19-seconds after Robison had scored, Carter’s Josh Trotter pounced on Yucaipa’s fourth fumble, and raced 35-yards into the end zone to give Carter a 21-7 lead with 10:36 left in the third quarter. A lead the Thunderbirds wouldn’t recover from.

“This was a big game and defensively, we played great,” said Lions’ quarterback, Bryan Harper. “Our defense and special teams were doing their thing, and they made it much easier on the offense.”

Carter will open the Inland Division of the CIF Playoffs on Friday by traveling to Norco (9-1) to take on the Cougars, the division’s #3 seed. Game time 7:30 p.m.


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