Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera’s sideline specialist and 2019 Homecoming King Kody Coushman runs in a touchdown during Senior Night festivities in Friday’s loss to the Bullard Knights.
Despite a 24-3 home loss against Bullard-Fresno, the Madera Coyotes football team walked away with its head held high.
The Coyotes relied on a strong defensive effort in the first half to keep the Knights’ offense in check Friday night. Bullard’s offense, however, found its rhythm in the second half to put away the Coyotes.
“I’m super proud of the way they fought,” Madera head coach Kenny Paolinelli said. “That’s one of the best teams in the Valley. To be able to play with those guys, that shows a lot of the dedication these guys have put in, the work they are continuingly doing to try to get better.”
After forcing a punt on the first drive of the game, the Coyotes started at their own 35-yard line. Madera’s drive, however, ended when Bullard’s Kobe Jenkins intercepted Isaiah Martinez. The Knights took over at midfield, but their drive stalled with an incomplete pass on fourth down at the four-yard line.
Martinez was sacked twice on the Coyotes’ next possession, resulting in a drive which ended with a turnover on downs.
The Knights struck first in the second quarter when Jaden Pierucci connected with Shalom Welch for a 22-yard touchdown pass. With 1:45 left in the second quarter, the Knights marched down the field and finished the drive with a short field goal to take a 10-0 lead.
“That’s an explosive offense. We were able to bottle them up a little bit tonight,” Paolinelli said. “Offensively, we had penalties every other drive, which kind of killed us, so we gotta clean stuff up offensively and just make the right reads and we’ll be okay.”
David Zavala replaced Martinez at the end of the first half, but the Coyotes still failed to come up with points.
Madera’s Julian Flores sacked Pierucci in the final seconds of the first half to force a Bullard punt, sending the teams to the break with a 10-0 score.
The Coyotes picked up four consecutive first downs to start the second half, including two keepers by Martinez. Zachary Roque added another 10-yard run to put the Coyotes at the 10-yard line.
But the Coyotes found themselves in a fourth-and-long after Martinez took a sack, leading to a 32-yard field goal by Richard Lozano-Cruz for Madera’s first, and only, points of the game.
With an eight-yard touchdown catch by Deandre Greeley early in the fourth quarter, the Knights extended their lead to 17-3.
Jenkins came up with his second interception of the game when he picked off Martinez on the Coyotes’ next possession.
The Knights appeared to have another score when Greeley caught a touchdown pass later in the fourth quarter. But the play was negated by a penalty. Still, the Knights came up with a first down on the next play and finished the drive with a 32-yard touchdown pass from Pierucci to Kai Sunamoto.
Dylan Cosgrove gave the Coyotes something to cheer when he recovered a fumble with five minutes left in the game. The Coyotes started the drive at the Knights’ 24-yard line and marched to the one-yard line, but only to see the drive end with a turnover on downs.
Leading 24-3, the Knights killed the final minute to walk away with the win.
“We talk about having a hunter’s mentality. You’re easier hunting or being hunted,” Paolinelli said. “These boys have really bought into that and they’re attacking every week. We feel like we’re getting better and we’re going to try to continue to get better.”
Friday’s game also featured a special moment for senior Kody Coushman, a student with special needs, who was also named Madera High School’s Homecoming King.
Coushman was given a chance to run for a touchdown on the first unofficial play of the game.