Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera Coyotes football head coach Kenny Paolinelli stands with the Governor’s Hat and his team after a 28-14 victory over the Merced Bears in the annual rivalry game.
The Madera Coyotes football team has emphasized defense since the summer, looking to be a team that can consistently force turnovers.
By causing four turnovers against the Merced Bears on Friday, the Coyotes proved that the message is clicking.
Those turnovers included three fumbles in the first half and an interception late in the game to seal a 28-14 home win and capture the coveted Governor’s Hat to put on head coach Kenny Paolinelli’s head after his third career victory.
“We work on those every week, ripping at the football, punching at the football,” Paolinelli said. “That’s a circuit we go through weekly. We want to make an emphasis on turning the ball over this year. That’s something the kids have really bought into.”
Jordan De La Rosa made a pivotal interception in the fourth quarter to put the Bears away for good. The senior picked off quarterback Seth Scheidt and returned the interception 60 yards for a score to give the Coyotes a 28-14 lead with 6:40 left in the fourth quarter.
“I saw the ball go up and I thought I had the opportunity to go up and attack the ball,” De La Rosa said. “I got it and I had my defense block for me to get that pick six.”
De La Rosa made the clutch play, but it was Ricky Garcia who set the tone with two fumble recoveries in the first half.
Garcia recovered the first fumble on the opening kickoff, then scooped up another loose ball later in the first quarter.
Madera’s Marcus Valdez followed up with another big play for the Coyotes’ defense, scoring with a 98-yard fumble return to give the Coyotes their second touchdown of the game.
“When they go out on the field, they feel like they can just play fast,” Paolinelli said. “They don’t have to think because we are so prepared. We watch so much film.”
With the win, the Coyotes retained the Governor’s cowboy hat which is given every year to the winner between the two teams.
Paolinelli wore the hat as a head coach for the first time, but he has been a part of the rivalry for a long time.
“I won it in my senior year. It’s super cool to give it my seniors,” Paolinelli said. “It’s such a big deal to this community. They have had this game since 1955. To etch your name in history — for it to say 2019, Madera got the W — that’s going to be there for the life of this rivalry.”
This year’s battle for the hat started with Madera quarterback Isaiah Martinez running for a 49-yard touchdown in the first quarter. However, Martinez finished the game with three interceptions.
After the Coyotes took a 14-0 lead, with Valdez’s fumble return, Scheidt connected with Alfonso Gary for a 40-yard touchdown and gave the Bears their first score.
Madera’s Dominic Smith then answered back with a 6-yard touchdown run to help the Coyotes regain a two touchdown lead.
But that lead was trimmed when Merced’s Desmond Thompson ran for a five-yard touchdown run.
Martinez threw his third interception of the game in the final seconds of the first half and the Coyotes held a 21-14 lead at the break.
The Coyotes had two possessions inside the Bears’ 30-yard line in the third quarter, but came up scoreless on each try.
The first chance ended with Martinez fumbling at the Coyotes 25-yard line. Madera also turned the ball over on downs at the 15-yard line on its next possession.
With both teams scoreless in the third quarter, the score remained 21-14 going into the fourth quarter.
De La Rosa’s interception return in the fourth quarter broke the drought.
With six minutes left and down by two touchdowns, the Bears failed on a fourth down attempt and gave the ball back to the Coyotes.
Madera’s Jeremiah Sanchez scampered for a 20-yard run with under two minutes left, getting a first-down to help the Coyotes kill the remaining time.
“We have a great group of coaches that believe in our boys and our boys believe in what we are preaching,” Paolinelli said. “These boys execute the scheme. It’s all about them. The schemes are nothing without the boys executing them. We’re lucky we have a good group of boys that believe in us and execute our scheme.”