Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera receiver Raul Medrano runs down the sideline during a first quarter reception in Friday’s playoff loss to Mt. Whitney.
VISALIA — The Madera Coyotes football team jumped out to a 22-7 halftime lead and some fans were looking forward to a rematch with the San Joaquin Memorial-Fresno Panthers in the semifinals of the Div. III football playoffs.
The fourth-seeded Mt. Whitney-Visalia Pioneers showed why they were the higher seeded team with 29 second half points for a 36-29 Div. III quarterfinal victory over fifth-seeded Madera on Friday.
“We made too many mistakes in the second half, especially in the third quarter, to win that game,” head coach Yosef Fares said. “It’s the thing that’s the same with us all season. We didn’t do enough to win that game.”
Madera quarterback Colt Nelson closed out his Madera career by going 22-of-34 for 327 yards and four touchdowns. Receiver J.J. Espinoza also ended his career on a high note with 10 receptions for 146 yards and three touchdowns.
However, Pioneers quarterback Jaedyn Pineda found open receivers in the second half, including John Hadley. Pineda was 20-of-32 for 293 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. He found Hadley seven times for 126 yards and three touchdowns. Pineda also had five rushing first downs.
“That third quarter slipped away from us a little bit,” Fares said. “We made some mental errors in coverage. The quarterback was going to make plays. We knew he was going to get going.”
After Madera was forced to punt on its opening possession, Mt. Whitney earned a pair of first downs, but turned the ball over on downs after a sack from William Childers.
Madera got a quick first down on an 11-yard pass play from Nelson to Raul Medrano. Espinoza caught an eight-yard pass for a first down.
On fourth down from the Pioneers’ 23-yard line, Nelson found Espinoza up the seam for a 23-yard touchdown pass with 4:41 left in the first quarter. Espinoza kicked the extra point and Madera led 7-0.
After an initial first down by Mt. Whitney, the Madera defense forced a Pioneers’ punt.
Jeremiah Sanchez, who led the Coyotes with 60 rushing yards, gained 11 and 17 yards on back-to-back plays.
Facing a third-and-22, Nelson got plenty of time to survey the field and hit Esponoza on the left side. Espinoza’s defender fell down and he scored from 41 yards out with 32 seconds left in the first for a 13-0 lead after Espinoza’s kick hit the upright.
Mt. Whitney scored on its next possession. A 14-yard run was followed by a 35-yard pass play to Anthony Valencia to cut Madera’s lead to 13-7 just 16 seconds into the second quarter.
The Coyotes answered back with a seven-play, 77-yard drive. On third down, Sanchez gained nine yards for a first down. Jacob Garcia gained 23 yards to the Mt. Whitney 34-yard line.
Two plays later, Nelson found Joziah Velasquez near the right sideline in the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown catch and a 19-7 lead after the two-point conversion failed with 8:44 left in the half.
Madera’s Angel Guizar sacked Pineda on fourth down to turn the ball over on downs.
The Coyotes got an initial first down on a 10-yard run from Nelson, but, were forced to punt.
The Pioneers drove down the field and earned three first downs to the Madera 49-yard line. However, Espinoza picked off Pineda to give the Coyotes possession just before the end of the first half.
The Coyotes quickly drove down the field. Nelson hit Sanchez for five on third-and-three, then hit Espinoza for 11. Espinoza made a diving catch on the next play for a 23-yard gain. Garcia turned a screen play into a 30-yard gain to the six-yard line with time running out.
Nelson scrambled to the three-yard line and Madera called time out with one second left on the clock. Espinoza hit a 20-yard field goal and Madera led 22-7 at the half.
However, the second half was a different story for both teams. The Pioneers opened the second half with a five-play drive, including a wide-open pass to Mike McKernan for a 23-yard touchdown run.
“Offensively, we weren’t clicking like we were, but the boys fought to the end,” Fares said.
The Coyotes punted and the Pioneers drove 53 yards on three plays to cut Madera’s lead to one. Pineda found Hadley for 25 yards and then hit him again after scrambling for a 25-yard touchdown catch-and-run. The point after was good and Mt. Whitney trailed with 8:15 left in the third.
Another Madera three-and-out led to another Mt. Whitney touchdown. The Pioneers used five plays to drive 43 yards with the final 28 coming on a pass to Hadley for a 29-22 lead.
In three fourth quarter drives, Madera ran nine plays and netted eight yards. Meanwhile, Mt. Whitney scored three third quarter touchdowns using 13 plays for 142 yards while gaining 194 yards in the first half.
After another Madera punt, Garcia picked off Pineda. However, the Coyotes couldn’t reclaim the momentum they had in the second half. Four plays later, Pineda stripped Madera and gave the Pioneers the ball back.
Madera’s defense forced a Mt. Whitney punt and the Coyotes got a 15-yard pass to Espinoza for a first down. However, the Coyotes were forced to punt.
Mt. Whitney took advantage of a questionable pass interference penalty on the Coyotes on a fourth down incompletion for an insurance touchdown after a 10-play, 86-yard drive for a 36-22 lead.
“That officiating crew called a pretty good game,” Fares said. “I think it was perfect timing. We make that stop an we have a chance to win the game. We shouldn’t be in that position to leave the game up to the officials.”
Nelson led the Coyotes on a seven-play, 67-yard drive to cut the lead down to a touchdown. He hit Velazquez for 14-yards and found Velazquez, again, for a 33-yard gain. Velazquez caught his third straight pass of the drive for 23-yards. Two plays later, Nelson found Espinoza for a seven-yard touchdown pass.
Mt. Whitney recovered the onsides kick and converted on third-and-nine with a 19-yard gain to close out the Coyotes.
“These kids stepped the program up,” Fares said. “The biggest thing I was happy about was we weren’t intimidated in any game. That was fun to see the program take that step in the right direction.”