Don’t lose it. Keep grinding.
That was Delhi High’s mentality as they beat up Waterford High and avoided a fourth quarter debacle.
After leading for majority of the game at home on Friday night, the Hawks handed the Wildcats their seventh loss of the season with a balanced attack of offense and defense.
The return of Garret Thomas in a new offensive role proved to be the difference in the game as he rushed for a team-high 104 yards and tallied two touchdowns from the running back position. He also scored through the air in the 40-36 win.
“We were trying to send our seniors out with something exciting,” said Delhi head coach Rod McCombs. “We did cut it a little too exciting for us and we told the guys that this is playoff week for us, playoffs actually started this week.”
“It is nice to pick up the win tonight and especially a good way with senior night to go out as seniors to go out with a victory,” said Thomas. “We made it too close, but pulled away with the win as a family.”
Delhi started off the game with a bang, forcing two of the team’s four total turnovers, in the opening two drives.
The game’s leading tackler, Jesse Flores, forced a fumble on the game's fourth play and returned it for a 36-yard touchdown. Nick Ruiz followed with an interception on the ensuing drive from inside their own seven yard line to stop Waterford’s threat.
Coming off a foot injury, Thomas was replaced by sophomore and junior varsity quarterback Louie Avalos two weeks ago. Avalos resumed his new role with the varsity team, which then allowed Thomas to run wild from the backfield.
“To be honest looking back it is something I wanted to do it earlier in the season but for some reason I didn’t have the guts to do it,” McCombs said. “It was unfortunate that Garret ended up with an injury and that’s what forced our hand to the better because it freed Garret to do other things and we are real pleased with the result.”
It paid off in more than one way. Thomas broke free for a 42-yard touchdown run in the second drive of the game to put the Hawks up 14-7 at the end of the first quarter but they were just getting started.
“I like it a lot, when I was the quarterback first thing I would do is run first so I mean that’s what I like to do and that’s what I am doing, just running wild and I like that,” Thomas said.
Thomas followed with a second touchdown run after busting loose for four-yards with just over seven minutes left in the first half.
Waterford was held to 260 total yards on offense and it was the sophomore Flores who led the way defensively for the Hawks after tallying a dozen tackles, forcing a fumble and scoring a touchdown.
It wasn’t just the offense and defense making plays, but on special teams, the Hawks surprised the Wildcats with an onside kick on the next play as they recovered and scored again after Thomas’ pitch pass was executed perfectly with a 14-yard touchdown grab from Ruiz to go up 33-14.
“After the injury I was told that I wouldn’t make it to the end of the season and after two and a half weeks I rested and it made me humble,” Thomas said. “I got the x-rays and the coaches told me to run loose so I was just trying to make something happen and make the playoffs.”
Waterford wasn’t done though.
The Wildcats scored 22 unanswered points in under eight minutes after Delhi made crucial mistakes, which included their first and only turnover of the game, a Thomas interception.
With less than six minutes left, Delhi urged a comeback.
The Hawks scored on a nine-play drive after an Avalos two-yard touchdown paved the way to the team’s fourth victory of the season.
“Louie [Avalos] is unshaken and he stepped up to fill big shoes and he has done that,” McCombs added.
Waterford had the ball with three minutes to go but the defense with all the momentum shut down the Wildcats offense and the game ended with a sack and forced fumble from Jose Martinez.
Delhi’s playoff hopes are alive, but with only two more games left, the Hawks must win out.
Their next contest comes against Gustine (6-2) at Gustine at 7:30 p.m. Friday.