YUBA CITY – With just under two minutes left to go in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Northern Section Division III finals, Paradise coach Rick Prinz saw Sutter pick up a first down that would make the 20-7 Huskies’ win all but academic.
The long-time Bobcats coach took off his headset, let out a giant sigh and prepared himself for the rush of emotions that he, his coaches and his players would feel after falling short of a section title in an improbable season that saw them rise from the ashes of the deadly Camp Fire to inspire a town and capture the attention of the sporting world along the way.
“In a lot of ways this was bigger than football and bigger than what happened tonight on this field,” Prinz said about the Bobcats even being in the title game. “This was for our town and helping rebuild it. They were a key role in that. … They’re special guys.”
For the record, Sutter won 20-7 as Daniel Cummings ran for 144 yards on 16 carries as rain pelted the River Valley field most of the night. His backfield mate, Cory McIntyre added 120 yards and two rushing TDs on 10 carries and added a 32-yard receiving scores.
As Cummings and McIntyre were doing the offensive heavy lifting for Sutter, the Huskies defense held the Paradise running duo of Tyler Harrison and Lukas Hartley well below their 300-yard-per-game rushing average. The sophomore Harrison ran for 117 yards on 31 carries and Hartley added 119 yards on 24 carries.
The first quarter ended scoreless as an 88-yard Sutter punt return was negated by a block in the back and the teams traded turnovers getting used to the slick field conditions. As the quarter ended, however, the Bobcats were threatening, but Danny Bettencourt was intercepted on the second quarter’s opening play.
The Huskies would go three-and-out, but force another Bobcats’ turnover near midfield on the ensuing Paradise possession. Five plays later, Cummings found the end zone from 12 yards out.
The Bobcats had a chance to tie it right before the half, but Mario Ayotte sacked Bettencourt as time expired in the half.
Sutter scored on its first possession of the second half as Landon Cooper hit McIntyre for a 32-yard scoring pass and a 14-0 lead with just under 10 left in the quarter.
The Bobcats would answer, however, on their next possession on a gutsy second-and-35 call after two holding penalties threatened to squash their momentum. Bettencourt dropped back and hit Mason Cowan for a 55 yard gain and Harrison plunged in from 3 yards out a few plays later and Paradise trailed 14-7.
The Huskies looked to tack on a 40-yard field goal toward the end of the third, but Tyler Hooks blocked the kick and Paradise trailed by seven heading to the final stanza.
But Bettencourt was intercepted and McIntyre busted a 54-yard sweep that boosted the Sutter lead to 20-7 with nine minutes left in the game. The Sutter defense made its final stand on fourth-and-one, stuffing Hartley near midfield and the Bobcats ran out of time.
And while the Huskies’ celebrated their sixth section title in eight seasons under head coach Ryan Reynolds at midfield, the Bobcats hugged, cried and consoled amid a throng of local, regional and national media in the field’s north end zone.
“I wish it would’ve been different for our story,” assistant coach Andy Hopper told the players, “but you know what, you guys are going to be amazing humans, amazing adults when all is said and done and we’re going to be able to say ‘I got to coach that kid.’ So trust me when I say that amazing things are coming for each and every one of you.”