Hilmar High’s football team entered its 14 semifinal playoff game on Friday, hosting a Liberty Ranch High team that, before this year, had never played in a playoff game. Whether it was the experience or the hard hits, the Yellowjackets (11-2) propelled themselves to the section championship with a final score of 37-7; proving that history does indeed repeat itself.
Liberty Ranch (9-5) came into the game with an impressive backfield. Its go-to runner, John Wiernicki, accrued a total of 2,458 yards during the regular season and was one of the main weapons the Hawks used to reach the semifinals. It was a different story Friday night though; Wiernicki was limited to only 90 yards.
“This is a special team and I felt like we had a special purpose this year,” Hilmar head coach Frank Marques said.
Hilmar used its offense as its greatest defense, scoring on every drive in the first half. With less than two minutes in the first quarter Hilmar kicked off its touchdown frenzy when Zack Giuliano, Hilmar’s defensive anchor, scampered for a 44-yard touchdown run off an inside trap. Liberty Ranch’s Wiernicki would answer Hilmar’s touchdown right away, running in a 67-yard touchdown the very next play from scrimmage.
Giuliano and the inside trap proved to be the Hawk’s Achilles heel, however, as Hilmar used the combo to setup a pair of touchdowns from 1 yard and 14 yards away, respectively.
“I knew I had to have the game of my life so I stepped up,” Giuliano said.
Hilmar continued to control the game after halftime. On their first possession of the half the Yellowjackets drained eight minutes off the clock before Garrett Jerricoff capped it off with a 7-yard touchdown run.
After Hilmar’s fourth touchdown the Hawks tried to kick it into high gear, running a no huddle offense and moving the ball effectively with their passing game. Their success was short lived as quarterback Jacob Tibbetts’ pass was intercepted by Hilmar’s Anthony Diaz. The interception set up Giuliano’s last and most impressive touchdown of the night as he barreled through the middle of the Hawks’ defense, knocking players over as he ran 35 yards into the end zone.
“That’s what’s special about our team, every week somebody comes forward and leads the team. This was his week,” Marques said of Giuliano.
Hilmar will now face familiar foe Escalon High in the Division IV Section Championship next Friday at Lincoln High School in Stockton. It will be the first time Marques will lead Hilmar into the championship game since his championship win in 1998.
“We always have a few surprises in our bag and you never know what’s going to pop out,” Marques said.
“I can’t wait to go to sections; it doesn’t even feel real yet,” Giuliano said. “We’ve played them (Escalon) before so we kind of know how to stop them. Hopefully, this time we get to shut them down.”
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