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Weston Ranch stunned by last-second return
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STOCKTON — In the final seconds of Friday’s non-league game at Podesto Field, Weston Ranch High was hoping for overtime.

Instead, the Cougars were dealt a heartbreaking 19-13 loss to host Bear Creek.

Throughout the game, the Cougars (0-3) had trouble on special teams coverage. They tried an onside kick that went awry.

The Bruins (1-2) opted for a re-kick following the out-of-bound infraction.

Returner Jack Phouminavong scooped up the line drive kick near his 30-yard line. He was hobbled by an ankle injury and helped off the field during Weston Ranch’s final scoring drive.

“I had to go back in even though my coaches were against it at first,” he said. “My team needed me.”

In a flash, Phouminavong not only ignored the pain from his ankle but found daylight along the visitor’s sideline. He scored with a 72-yard return with just two ticks of the clock left, giving the Bruins the lead for good.

Down but not out, the Cougars were left having to borrow a page from the final play of the 1982 Stanford-Cal game, relying on a series of laterals and fumbles.

Weston Ranch’s last-ditch effort died inside the Bear Creek 10.

The Cougars had to make do with 17 players against the same Bear Creek team that dominated East Union in the second half a week earlier.

With 29 seconds left in the game, they tied the game at 13-13. Anthony Nunez had somehow found a way to haul in E.J. Allen’s deflected 5-yard toss while surrounded by defenders.

Weston Ranch even had a chance to go ahead, but the extra-point kick was blocked.

Coach Mike Hale was disappointed with the outcome for numerous reasons. Included were some disciplinary breakdowns.

“When you have small numbers like us, you can’t afford to make too many of the mental mistakes,” he said.

His other concern involved special teams play.

The Cougars had surrendered sizable yardage in this area. Kick returner Chris Contreras, for one, nearly broke loose for scores.

The Bruins had their chances, too, but were often betrayed by turnovers.

Allen and Antoine Robinson both had interceptions for Weston Ranch. But it was Willie Cervantes’ fumble recovery that led to the game’s first score in second quarter.

The Cougars orchestrated a 73-yard drive, going 12 plays led by the one-two punch of Tremain Buntun and Donnell Simms.

Buntun’s 1-yard plunge coupled with Cervantes’ extra-point kick gave Weston Ranch a 7-0 lead.

In the third quarter, the Cougars were back in business after Robinson’s interception.

Weston Ranch returned the favor by coughing up the ball at its own 30, with J.T. Goodwin scooping up the fumble while racing into the end zone.

The Bruins depended on their running game paced by Royce Long, who finished with a game-high 119 yards on 20 carries.

At the start of the fourth quarter, he gave Bear Creek a 13-7 lead, scoring on a 5-yard run.

Weston Ranch came back by recovering fumble and marching downfield behind the ground game coupled with Allen scrambling on runs of 18 and 17 yards in the waning minutes of the game.

With Sonora coming to town for the next week’s Valley Oak League, Hale is hoping to build from this latest setback.

“We’re 17 players strong,” he said. “But I’ll take these 17 over anyone.”

To reach reporter Vince Rembulat, e-mail