Southern Athletic League rivals Delhi and Denair High opened league play Friday night with a slug fest that was reflective of the two teams’ equal standing. Entering the game with identical 2-1 records, the Hawks (3-1 overall, 1-0 SAL) and Coyotes (2-2 overall, 0-1 SAL) took turns thrilling their crowds with big hits on defense and scrappy play on offense.
In the end, however, Delhi’s defense proved to be the difference as it shut out Denair for three quarters and gave its team the chance to earn a 15-8 overtime win.
“It’s a good kickoff point for us. They put up much more of a battle than we expected,” Delhi head coach Rod McCombs said. “We just felt disrespected coming in here and our kids showed the kind of mettle that we knew they had from early spring. We’ve been working to this point; we’ve been working to get to this point right here.”
Denair took an early lead on their second possession of the night when a Hayden Steger fumble set the Coyotes up on Delhi’s 34 yard line. Operating an option-based offense, the Coyotes drove 34 yards in nine plays and took an eight point lead with a seven-yard Dominyc Silva scramble.
Denair maintained momentum throughout the first half, though neither team did much in terms of offensive productivity. The Coyotes entered halftime with 83 yards from scrimmage while the Hawks entered with 74 yards from scrimmage.
“We went over there and just told them, ‘Hey keep putting licks on them,” McCombs said of his staff’s halftime message to the team. “We just needed to wrap better, make better tackles, and finish plays. We were putting it on our defense.”
But it was Delhi’s offense that provided the spark after the half when quarterback Garret Thomas hit Sergio Hernandez for a 49-yard touchdown on the first play of the third quarter. Steger barreled up the middle on the two-point conversion to tie the game, leading to a two-quarter defensive battle.
Denair nearly found pay dirt in the fourth quarter, advancing the ball all the way down to Delhi’s three yard line, but a pair of penalties for a false start and blocking in the back helped aid a Hawks defensive stand and led to a turnover on downs.
“We were telling them that they could be more physical than they were,” McCombs said.
After ending regulation with an 8-8 tie, Delhi assumed the first offensive possession in overtime as it was given four opportunities to score from the 10-yard line.
Thomas ran seven yards and nearly broke the plane with a spectacular leap on second down only to be declared down at the one. He scored on the next play on a quarterback keeper.
Denair’s Austin Hughes also took the Coyotes down to the one yard line on their overtime possession but they were stopped on fourth down when Jesse Flores, who had multiple big plays on defense through the night, chased down the Denair runner and tackled him for negative yardage. The stop sent Delhi’s sideline into a frenzy as its players rushed the field to celebrate their comeback win.
“I don’t want to single anyone person out, but the guys that we needed to step up the most stepped up,” McCombs said.
“Right now he’s the difference maker. Even tonight, he was occupying two people and most of the time he was beating double teams and getting in the back field and making plays,” he added about Flores. “Every Friday night he’s a little bit better than he was the previous Friday night.”
Flores ended the night with two sacks.
“It was exciting. I don’t know, I just wanted the victory. It came down to who wanted it more and we wanted it more,” Flores said.
Delhi finished the game with 153 yards from scrimmage and Denair finished with 152 yards from scrimmage. Thomas gained 39 yards on the ground and scored one rushing touchdown while throwing for 66 yards and one touchdown. Hughes finished with the most yards for Denair with 81 total yards.
Denair must now travel to Mariposa High next week while Delhi hosts Orestimba High at home.
“We’re definitely going to build on this defense. We had a shutout last game; we only gave up eight points tonight. We’re definitely going to build on this defense,” McCombs said. “I just want to give credit to my defensive coordinator Joe Cantu for putting together an outstanding defensive game plan.”