When Hilmar High’s varsity football coach Frank Marques looked at his team’s schedule in March, he was cautiously optimistic — and maybe even a little excited — about facing bigger schools in a bigger league due to COVID.
Five weeks and one pandemic-shortened season later, he’s happy with the outcome after the Yellowjackets finished with a 36-0 win against Golden Valley High on Friday night to end with a 4-1 record. When all was said and done, Hilmar was just two points shy of finishing the season undefeated after falling to Merced High during the final seconds of Week 3.
The matchups against schools three times Hilmar’s size came as the team moved into the Central California Conference for the time being, so they could play with other schools in Merced County amid stringent COVID safety guidelines.
“We were the new kid on the block and these guys have been playing together forever, but the coaches in this league were super kind and very welcoming,” Marques said.
No strangers to setbacks, like some players having to miss games this season due to COVID exposures, the Yellowjackets faced a devastating roadblock early in the game Friday when senior quarterback Seth Miguel went down with a knee injury. He had already scored a rushing touchdown, but during the ‘Jackets second drive of the game his knee buckled as he cut during a run — likely an ACL tear, Marques said.
Up 14-0, Cordero Silveira came in at QB and Hilmar didn’t miss a beat. After Miguel had already completed 7 of 7 passes on the night for 105 yards, Silveira hit 6 of 7 for 71 yards with a touchdown. Sophomore receivers Derek Taylor and Cannon Irelan both had a receiving touchdown on the night, while running back Cole Bailey collected two rushing touchdowns of his own.
All season, Marques has said how lucky it’s been to simply be on the field playing football, no matter what the score is at the end of the game. After a successful season, he’s looking forward to getting back on the field this fall after a short offseason.
“I think the resiliency was remarkable by our players, with all the ups and downs with quarantine...I think the resiliency and the positive attitude they kept was a blessing through all of this,” Marques said.
Another team excited for the future is Denair High, where the Coyotes finished with a 1-4 record after falling to Waterford High 47-21 on Friday.
Head coach Anthony Armas was glad to see his young team put up 21 points against Waterford, who finished the season 4-1. Even more impressive was the perseverance the team showed in the second half after trailing 28-0
“We didn’t start well, but that’s turned out to be the theme for this team. It took us a quarter or two to get settled in,” Armas said. “I think that’s what happens with a younger team, early game jitters. We’ve always done a really good job at the half of adjusting and coming out with a game plan in the second half.”
Despite allowing 47 points to the Wildcats, the Denair defense showed bright spots during the game including two interceptions by Harley Padilla and Anthony Pineda. Padilla also scored during the game on a 5-yard touchdown, while Cody Martinez and David Sutton both scored with 1-yard runs of their own.
With a team comprised mostly of sophomores, Armas said he’s excited for what next season could bring with proper preparation.
“Obviously the season wasn’t going to go how we wanted it to, but we were hoping to see kids progressing and getting better, which we did, so that’s definitely a plus,” Armas said. “This time we have a quick turn around instead of not playing for over a year, so we won’t have as much rust to knock off this fall.”