The 2018 Denair High’s varsity football team accomplished something no other Coyotes squad has been able to do — win a Sac-Joaquin Section Championship.
This dream came to fruition on Saturday in the Division-VII SJS Championship game when the Denair Coyotes pulled away from Golden Sierra in a 43-21 final from Liberty Ranch High after Steffin Winston and Hunter Musgrave combined for six touchdowns.
“We have a great staff and a great group of kids and a great administration and community,” said head coach Anthony Armas. “It really does take a village, just every aspect we have had help and it’s a big deal to never have [a Section title]. I know there were great teams in the past that went up against juggernauts, so we felt if we were put in a division where it was our size of kids we could do well.”
“We just came out with a game plan and wanted to run it right at them. Got some beautiful blocks from my linemen and it was all according to the plan,” said Winston, who rushed for 100 yards. “It feels amazing to be the first; we are just setting a pathway to the next generation. It was mainly because of my blockers, they opened up some great holes for me and I couldn’t do it without them.”
With the win, Denair also stamps its place in history by becoming the first team to not only win a section title, but also capture 11 victories in a single season. They reached the section final in 1998 and 2006, but lost in both games.
“I mean we talked about this, getting a shot at a section title, we felt we could do it and it’s exciting to see them and us do it… just exciting,” said Armas. “I think none of us would be doing this if we didn’t believe that down the line we could do it, but never this soon. I knew we had a special group that could do some unforgettable things and win some games, but when things started to fall in place we knew we could.
From having just 16 players earn a playoff spot two years ago, to making national headlines for a school with an enrollment of under 300, Armas has definitely improved the program from when he first step foot on campus four years ago.
So far this year, their only loss came at the hands of D-VI section finalists and the Southern League champs, Ripon Christian.
Other than that, Denair has won convincingly, outscoring all opponents 482-222.
Winston was the player of the game on Saturday after he finished with two interceptions and four total touchdowns, including three rushing.
He rushed for scores from seven, four and 12 yards out, including a 70-yard pick-six in the closing seconds.
In order to keep their winning streak alive, Denair had to look for a full team effort, from the defense to the offense and special teams.
It was an interesting start to the game to say the very least.
In their first four possessions Denair had just 17 yards, yet scored two touchdowns after the defense forced a turnover and then a turnover on downs in Denair territory.
Special teams set up the first touchdown of the game.
Golden Sierra marched down the field to kick things off in the first, but the Denair defense stopped them and took over their own 37-yard-line after a big Scott Badal performance that saw him make two stops on second and fourth down, allowing no yards.
Once Denair took over on offense for their first possession, they were at negative four yards and were forced to punt.
When the punt was kicked by Elvis Silva the ball took an odd bounce that was in and out of the hands of the opposition and Denair recovered on the seven yard line, setting up their first touchdown of the game.
Winston then notched his first of four touchdowns for the game, plunging his way in on one play from seven yards out to give the Coyotes a 6-0 lead with 6:01 remaining in the first quarter.
Two punts and a turnover on downs later saw Winston run it in from four yards out to extend the lead to 13-0 to start the second.
GS followed up with their first of three scores with a 13-play scoring drive capped off by a Seth Archer score from a yard in that made it 13-7 with 5:50 left till half.
Elvis Silva drilled a 27-yard field goal with eight seconds left and the Coyotes went into the locker room at the half leading 16-7.
Denair started off the second half with possession, but they were forced to punt on a three and out.
GS began to work down the field and on the seventh play of that drive, Winston came away with the first of two interceptions for the game.
Winston scored his third rushing touchdown on a nine-play scoring drive from 12 yards out with 4:21 left in the third and saw the Coyotes go up 23-7.
Ayden Nordby of GS cut the deficit to 23-15 after scoring from five yards out with eight seconds left in the third.
Archer scored the third and final touchdown for GS when he ran it in from 80 yards out and saw the lead cut to 23-21 after their two-point conversion was no good.
Denair’s Hunter Musgrave scored his first of two touchdowns after he ran it in on a statue of liberty play from four yards out that made it 30-21 with 4:06 remaining in the game.
Six offensive plays later, Musgrave picked off Nordby and returned it 91 yards to the opposite end and extended the lead to 37-21.
Just before the final offensive play, GS was marching, but then Winston erased any thought of a comeback after he picked off Nordby with under 20 seconds remaining and took it back for 70 yards, ending the game at 43-21.
“Like I said before the season started that we would compete for a section title and we finally did it, feels pretty good,” said Musgrave, who rushed for 51 yards on 10 carries. “We had a lot of possessions where we didn’t move the ball much but we got it going and trusted in Armas and the play calls and we made big plays. They don’t say defense wins championships for no reason.”
Winston capped off the day with 18 carries for 100 yards and three rushing touchdowns. He also had a pair of interceptions, including a pick-six.
Dylan De Silva finished with 76 yards rushing on 13 carries.
Golden Sierra finished with 340 total yards on offense to Denair’s 237. Of Denair’s total, De Silva, Musgrave and Winston combined for 227 on the ground alone.
“We just won the Section Championship and we are feeling so good and this is the happiest moment for me in high school and football,” said Badal, who finished with over half a dozen tackles for loss. “I love myself and my teammates, and did this for my family, for our town and everything that I love. This is phenomenal, I feel special, we are making history and we are not going to stop, we are ready for whoever has to play us next. I am thankful for all my teammates, my family and everyone.”
Denair will advance to the CIF State Tournament with an opponent and time yet to be determined.
“Excited and a relief for sure because these kids were special and a staff, we knew it and we wanted to make sure we put them in the right spots to do what they do,” Armas added. “More a relief that we didn’t screw up and we let the kids do them, but just super excited for them, our staff and our fans, it is all so awesome.”
“Shout out to all my lineman, everyone on the team I couldn’t do anything without them. I like to shout out to my mom for always being there for me and my dad - he is watching me up there and my whole family, they really support me through everything. We are still hungry and want to go as far as we can… I love this team so much.”