TRACY – With 3:42 remaining the Lathrop Spartans needed a stop.
After Austin Plunk hauled in a 16-yard pass to cut Kimball’s lead to eight, it was up to the defense to give the offense a shot at tying it in the final minutes.
Kimball’s high-powered offense was able to run out the clock to hold on for a 28-20 Valley Oak League victory.
And just like that, Christmas with no presents, as Lathrop ended its season 0-10.
“We just had to get the kids to believe,” Lathrop head coach Jesse Rodriguez said. “The coaching staff has believed in them all year long. Tonight was a real credit to the boys; it’s hard to go 0-10, it’s hard. And these kids dug deep tonight and played as hard as they possibly could.
“I’m very proud of them.”
Lathrop rolled into the halftime cloaked with a 20-0 deficit. The Spartans had reason to believe they could turn things around. They held Kimball (4-3, 5-5) scoreless in the second quarter and had a pair of tough breaks in the first half, including a missed field goal opportunity.
The Spartans came out of halftime and promptly posted an 11-play, 65-yard scoring drive which culminated with a 9-yard scoring strike from quarterback Kenny Garrett to Plunk down on fourth.
Kimball’s response was a 16-play drive where the Jaguars converted on three third-down attempts to keep it alive. Kimball likely didn’t realize that the drive would decide the contest and they also didn’t expect Lathrop to keep scoring at such a pace. Lathrop would answer Kimball’s score in 78 seconds to open the fourth, assuring Kimball it was in for a game.
“The guys were making some mistakes there and we hadn’t made mistakes for a couple of weeks,” Kimball head coach Steve Anastasio said. “This week we fell apart, but Lathrop played hard. They probably played the best game they’ve played all year and I was really impressed with how hard they played.
“Their coach did a great job; Jesse deserves a lot of credit, he does a great job over there.”
Lathrop got a pair of touchdown receptions from Plunk and a 43-yard scoring run from Alex Relova. Relova and running back Kevin Rainey both had 100 yards rushing, while Kimball was led by quarterback Zach Johnson’s 200 yards of total offense. Johnson scored on his first pass and first carry of the game, but wouldn’t get back to the end zone after the blistering opening quarter.
The effort Lathrop closed out the contest will have to serve as its victory. With a stop on that final drive, who knows. Nonetheless, the Spartans were right there. Johnson mishandled a snap in the final minute. He leaped on the ball, secured the fumble and the stadium’s reaction showed how close the Spartans final game was.
“I knew that we could do it,” Plunk said. “I believed that our family could do it. This wasn’t about scores, or wins and losses’ this was about family.
“For us this was a day of family and I’m proud of them.”