Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera running back Josh McMillon looks for running room off the block of Jason Regua (80).
The San Joaquin Memorial-Fresno Panthers took advantage of Madera Coyotes’ miscues and mistakes in a 38-0 shutout victory at Memorial Stadium.
With only three returning starters from last season’s varsity roster, Madera coaches and players are feeling the growing pains. Head coach Yosef Fares is still searching for his first victory and as the players were celebrating Senior Night on Friday, Madera turned to sophomore quarterback Colt Nelson to try to jump-start an offense that has been prone to shooting itself in the foot.
Nerves and excitement engulfed the psyche of many players who realized their high school career would shortly come to an end.
“I was excited going in, but also overwhelmed at the same time thinking to myself how it’s finally Senior Night and think how fast it happened. It’s still been a great experience,” senior defensive end Michael Hartley said. “This team has taught me to never give up. This year has taught me a lot of life lessons and to have true character in life. It helped with a lot of situations.”
Hartley ended his Senior Night with two quarterback sacks, adding to his double-digit total for his career.
Nelson showed great upside with pinpoint accuracy and ability to move the chains. Junior quarterback, Jerry Hernandez, started the first seven games of the season and is a proven two-year varsity with the talent on the ground to put points on the scoreboard. Next year is looking more and more like the Coyote’s shot to compete for the CMAC title. With the plethora of experienced players on the varsity roster and the crop of players coming in, Madera will be a nightmare for opponents.
The Madera Coyotes junior varsity is 6-2 with both losses coming in the final seconds of the game. Before the Senior Night began, an amazing finish took place at Memorial Stadium. With less than two minutes to play, the Coyotes were down 14-6 before scoring a touchdown and converting a two-point conversion to tie the game. Sophomore wingback and safety Joziah Velasquez made an acrobatic and instinctive interception on Memorial’s next possession. With 40 seconds left, Velasquez came down with the ball and went nearly 60-yards for the game-winning touchdown and sprained his ankle in the process.
“My coach was telling me to play back, so I stayed back and once I saw him throw the ball, I moved to his side and I caught it,” Velasquez said. “It feels great because we lost our last game, which made me mad, and that’s when I first hurt the same ankle.”
Velasquez’s comments prove the understanding of a game plan and the awareness to execute it. He’s just one of the players in a pack of hungry Coyote underclassmen ready to prove their worth to Fares and become one of the most feared teams in the valley. Most of the wins came by double digits, and without a doubt an exciting team to watch on Friday nights.
However, the youth of the program comes with lack of experience. While the players on the JV team are gaining that experience, sophomore Colt Nelson started his first game for the varsity as he was trying to work out the kinks against a well-coached Panther defense. Nelson’s two interceptions are due to lack of experience and can be fixed. While Hernandez has great vision while running with the ball, Nelson has above average accuracy and arm strength.
Perhaps the biggest benefactor of a two-quarterback system is another young player, Joseph Saldivar. Saldivar is the Coyote’s No. 1 receiver and caught five balls from Nelson for 70 yards. Quietly, he has been able to build trust with Hernandez and, in one game, showcased a chemistry with Nelson going into the next two games and into next season.
The opening drive against the Panthers was arguably the best opening drive the Coyotes put together since their 42-41 loss in Tulare to Mission Oak in Week 2. The outcome of the drive was lackluster and a complete failure, but looking on the bright side of turf, Nelson made the offense click. He was able to gain five first downs, including one through the air with the team needing five yards, but getting six from a reception by senior running back Eric Escobar. Nelson went 3-for-5 for 26 yards before throwing his first interception at the 11-yard line.
The opening drive went from the Coyote 35-yard line to the Panthers’ nine and took 6:37 off the clock. Nelson threw for 84 yards and two interceptions on 8-of-15 passing in his debut. Two-year starter Jerry Hernandez ended the night with 60 yards on 4-of-10 passing.
The Coyotes have been at their best when controlling the clock, dictating tempo, and with the Madera offense on the field running the ball. Now with Nelson, they have another weapon and playmaker, which thickens the playbook and stretches the field.
As the Panthers took over at the 11-yard line, it only took three plays for the Coyote defense to give up the 89 yards behind them. Two runs of over 25 yards by sophomore quarterback Alec Trujillo and senior running back Demarcus Wilson set up a 34-yard touchdown run and two-point conversion by Wilson to give the Panthers a 8-0 lead halfway through the first quarter.
Heading into the second quarter, it was another scoring drive by the Panthers. Trujillo completed just one pass to freshman phenom Jalen McMillan for 52 yards. The next play it was Wilson who bulldozed his way in from 19-yards out. The first scoring drive took just three plays, this drive took only two. McMillan ended the night with 132 receiving yards on six catches.
Down 14-0 to begin the final quarter of the first half, senior running back Joshua McMillon ran for 30 of his 50 first-half yards on a single drive that resulted in another Coyote turnover in the red zone.
McMillon has been Madera’s most consistent player on offense and the workhorse since taking over for Escobar. Four first downs acquired by Hernandez, Escobar, and McMillon put the Coyotes at the 2-yard line before senior defensive anchor, Justin Landero fumbled the outside pitch as he tried to create space attempting to run in for the touchdown.
A costly turnover that allowed the Panthers to go from their own 6-yard line to the Coyote 11-yard line setting up an 11-yard rush by Wilson, who rushed for all four his touchdowns in the first half and finished with the game with 127 total yards.
Madera’s last possession of the first half was an ugly three-and-out after Hernandez overthrew both of his targets as the Coyote’s went into halftime down 26-0. After recovering the opening second half kickoff, the opening drive wasn’t as successful. The first play was a 37-yard completion from Nelson to Wilson. After fumbling a third-down snap, Nelson took a sack on the ensuing play resulting in a turnover on downs.
The Panthers again would take advantage of the young quarterback’s mistake. Six plays in a row on the following possession by the Panthers were first-down plays. Junior running back Justice Palms punched it in from the 2-yard line for his first score of the game. Palms only managed 42 total yards but he found the end zone twice on the ground.
Now trailing 32-0, Hernandez found J.J. Espinoza and Joseph Saldivar three times on another promising possession before Saldivar made a great 34-yard reception-turned-fumble. The highly questionable and contested call on Saldivar handed the ball back to the Panthers at midfield with just 6:06 left in the third quarter.
For the rest of the third quarter and three minutes in to the fourth, the Panthers and Coyote’s each had two more possessions resulting in punts. San Joaquin Memorial scored the final touchdown of the game with 10:41 left to go.
Pointing fingers at the defense would be too easy at this point in the 0-8 season. The offense was brilliant to begin every drive, but unable to execute in scoring position a total of six times throughout the game. The Panthers simply made the Coyotes pay for their mistakes.
The Coyotes difficult schedule continues next week when the team travels to Sanger to battle the unbeaten Apaches, who are all alone atop the CMAC at 7-0. Hartley described what it would be like to spoil the Sanger unbeaten streak, as well as the goals he shares with his teammates.
“No matter what, my goal is to keep pushing and not give up on this season and keep grinding,” Hartley continued. “Our goals are not to give up on each other no matter what, because everyone is against us and really all we have is each other.”