LATHROP — Los Banos quarterback Adam Herrera was dropped for a 39-yard loss and a safety as time expired, but it was he and the Tigers who celebrated a 30-29 upset of top-seeded Lathrop in the first-round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs on Friday.
“That’s the biggest minus 39-yard run we’re going to have all year,” Los Banos coach Dustin Caropreso said. “I don’t care what his stats are, that’s a huge run for us right there. That was pretty special.”
Lathrop (6-5), making its first-ever postseason appearance, was down 23-6 at one point in the third quarter and battled admirably to get back to within striking distance. So when Caropreso’s eighth-seeded Tigers (7-4) were faced with a fourth-and-15 with 7.9 seconds left in the game he thought it best to play it safe. Herrera took the snap and immediately scooted backwards toward the opposite end zone, evading defenders until Jacari Thompson tackled him for the final points of the game.
“For being 6-4 and playing in the VOL, that’s a great football team,” Caropreso said of Lathrop. “They didn’t give up and neither team gave up. That’s a tough way to lose right there. That was two football teams that played their butts off.”
Lathrop was held to a single rushing yard but outgained Los Banos 308-182 in total yards from scrimmage. Much of the Spartans’ offensive production came in the second half after the Tigers took their three-score lead. Quarterback DiegoChavez ended up 23 of 45 for 307 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Lathrop trailed 9-6 at halftime and had just 71 yards of offense. Chavez’s 16-yard touchdown toss to Tremayne Tuipuloto Willis Jr. with 8:41 left in the first quarter represented the first points of the game and Lathrop’s first scoring play in a postseason game.
“We knew adversity was going to come,” Chavez said. “It was a great team effort how everyone was just picking each other up. We were down and we never counted ourselves out the game.”
His late interception was one of the key moments of the contest. Chavez delivered a 3-yard touchdown strike to tight end Cameron Corner (four receptions, 58 yards) on fourth-and-goal, and Andy Basulto’s point-after kick closed Lathrop in 27-21 with 5:33 remaining.
After a three-and-out series for the defense, the Spartans got the ball back on their own 8 with 3 minutes, 31 seconds to work with. But on the third play of the drive, 6-foot-3, 210-pound safety David Walker picked off a pass intended for Anthony Santos and ran it back 15 yards for the touchdown. Walker was already cheating on that side of the field where Lathrop playmaker Brian Terrell was lined up. Terrell gashed the Tigers in many ways Friday, so Walker was anticipating that the pass would go in his direction.
“As soon as the ball was snapped and I saw the coverage was there,” Lathrop coach Joe Pirillo said. “The ball probably should have been thrown away. Diego saw something and he just tried to thread the needle.”
Terrell was Lathrop’s leading rusher with 67 yards on five carries. He also had six receptions go for 27 yards, an interception on defense and blocked a PAT.
Down but not out, Lathrop answered with its final points on offense with a 1-minute, 20-second drive punctuated by Isaias Hunter’s sensational 35-yard catch-and-run play. He leapt above several Los Banos defensive backs to make the grab before turning for the end zone. Hunter ended up with 118 yards on seven catches.
The Spartans then attempted an onside kick and nearly came up with it. Basulto’s kick skipped high over Los Banos’ James Bostick, and the ball deflected off of Sergio Jurado and rolled safely out of bounds with Keenan Donatelli Alex Valencia closest to it for Lathrop.
“It just shows the heart and the character our team has,” Pirillo said. “Once again our boys played hard … We just ran out of time.”
Lathrop’s defense had big plays all game from interior lineman Rob Luckett (sack) and linebackers Idown Olaleye (fumble recovery, sack), Jacob Devita and Willis (sack). Luckett and Willis were slowed by leg cramps in the second half, while Devita managed to break up three passes in the first half despite playing on a sprained ankle. Devita’s limited mobility took away one of Lathrop’s key pieces on offense, as he brings a physical style of running to complement sophomore Michael Ramos (15 rushes, 5 yards).
“It’s tough,” Pirillo said of the injuries, “but we have other guys. I thought that they stepped up but we just have to adjust a little faster. I’m still proud of how they all played.”
Los Banos will now face No. 4 Liberty Ranch in Galt for next week’s semifinal round. Liberty Ranch, which Lathrop beat in the regular season, defeated Dixon 45-22 in its postseason opener. Friday’s victory was a big confidence booster for Los Banos, which had dropped three of its last five to end the regular season.
“I think we definitely might be better than that,” Walker said. “The way we played toward the end of the season that was just a hiccup. This game was to show people.”