COTTONWOOD – There’s an inexplicable extra gear when a team carries the burden of adversity that goes beyond football.
West Valley felt it during last year’s section title run, honoring its fallen teammate Tyson Wacker with the “Play for 8” mantra that carried over into 2019.
While Paradise’s tragedy from last year’s Camp Fire devastation appears like a different kind of life-altering suffering, the Bobcats are rewriting the instructions on persevering through the unimaginable.
Sophomore Tyler Harrison ran for 243 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries to lift fourth-seeded Paradise over No. 1 West Valley 28-13 at The Pasture Friday night in a Northern Section Division III semifinal in the Tri Counties Bank Game of the Week.
The Bobcats (12-0) stay perfect and set up a road contest with No. 2 Sutter – a 25-7 win over No. 3 Lassen in the other D-III semifinal – on Saturday at 7 p.m.
“Every game, every practice we get better to pursue our goal of winning a section and state title,” said Harrison. “We do it for the 85 people we lost in the fire. We do it for them and we do it for this team and this town.”
Harrison scored on runs of 42, 73 and 86 yards and provided the fireworks in an otherwise stalemate ground-and-pound game that drew comparisons to the early days of the sport. Harrison’s 42-yard score capped the opening drive and the Bobcats never looked back.
“They have something to play for just like we did last year,” said West Valley head coach Greg Grandell, who guided the Eagles to their first undefeated regular season in program history this fall. “It’s hard to beat a team that has that on their minds.”
West Valley’s myriad of weapons on the ground and through the air was stymied for the first time this season. Penalties that stalled drives mixed with the inability to connect on a big play limited the Eagles’ offense. A backside screen to Hayden Boyes with plenty of running room and blockers in front was dropped, other passes overthrown and running lanes closed in a hurry.
Harrison showcased his speed when he broke free late in the second quarter, outrunning the secondary for a 73-yard touchdown and the Bobcats led 14-0 after the 2-point conversion pass. West Valley (11-1) looked to answer after a big return from Brandon Maroste set the Eagles up at the Bobcat 42.
But West Valley punted from the opponent 35-yard line with 2:28 left in the half, hoping to play field position and catch a break, Grandell said.
“We wanted to manage the game and not put the defense in bad situations,” Grandell said. “We never got any breaks tonight … we couldn’t get out of our own way at times.”
West Valley drove down the field on the opening possession of the third quarter, getting a nine-yard gain from Cade Lambert on fourth-and-1 to move inside the Bobcat 30.
Two plays later, an unlikely source delivered a blow to the Eagles. Brenden Moon — a starter this week due to Caleb Bass’ suspension for coming off the bench in a skirmish last week in the final minutes against Live Oak — jumped a slant route and picked off McCloughan, returning it 75 yards for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead. It was the first interception thrown all year by McCloughan, who would throw two on the night as the senior quarterback was 3-of-15 passing for 84 yards.
Paradise scored on its only offensive play of the third quarter with Harrison racing up the gut untouched 85 yards to go ahead 28-0 with 1:58 left in the period.
The Bobcats left no doubt and put to rest any possible controversy from missing six players, who were suspended due to their actions in a scuffle in last week’s win over Live Oak. It was just another challenge won by the Bobcats.
“The game of football is more than running and blocking, the emotional toll you take from practice and through tragedies like they faced – they fuel you in a way you can’t understand,” said Lambert. “Their ability to take punches and keep pushing is incredible.”
West Valley put up two scores in the final seven minutes of the fourth, the first coming from Wyatt Reginato a 7-yard touchdown run. Two drives later, McCloughan found Lambert over the middle for a 9-yard receiving score with 1:14 remaining.
Lambert finished with 108 rushing yards on 15 carries while Reginato added 38 yards on 10 attempts and Josh Aguilar ran 11 times for 34 yards.
- Annual Lions All-Star Football Game canceled due to coronavirus pandemic
- Foothill’s Josiah Palumbo named Shasta County Sports Boys Basketball MVP
- Shasta County Sports 2019-20 All-County boys basketball team
- West Valley’s Madalynn Bassett earns Shasta County Sports Girls Basketball MVP honors
- Shasta County Sports 2019-20 All-County girls basketball team