KINGSBURG – The Dinuba High Emperors had a tough enough assignment heading into their Central Section Division II first round football matchup against Kingsburg High on Nov. 3; having already suffered a lopsided loss in a regular season matchup in September.
But a Vikings team motivated by the appearance of one of their starting players, who was lost a week earlier to a serious neck injury, proved a force too powerful for the Emps to match. The No. 5 seeded Vikings (9-2) stormed out to a 35-0 halftime lead and cruised to a 42-8 victory, ending No. 12 seed Dinuba’s season with a 5-6 record.
Kingsburg was motivated by having Blake Pallares on the sidelines after the junior running back-linebacker suffered a broken bone in his neck in the team’s regular season finale. Fortunately, Pallares had no signs of paralysis or long-term effects from the season-ending injury.
“We played real inspired tonight, you could tell,” said Kingsburg coach Dave Wilson. “I’m hoping we can ride this wave into next week (a quarterfinal rematch with Tulare Union on Nov. 9).”
Senior quarterback Max Warkentin was nearly a one-man wrecking crew to Dinuba, passing for 229 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 51 yards including a 40-yard touchdown. Dennis Gagnon had a rushing and receiving touchdown, and the hosts scored three TDs on the ground and through the air.
Dinuba, meanwhile, struggled to surpass 100 yards of total offense, and turned the ball over multiple times on downs as they couldn’t capitalize on rare scoring opportunities. The Emperors broke up the shutout on a 1-yard touchdown run from Julian Ramirez during a running clock in the fourth quarter.
“We’re young right now, especially with a young quarterback,” Lester said while praising Kingsburg’s performance. “I know how good that team is, and I know they’re really capable of making a run and they’re capable of doing some damage in the postseason.”
Wilson admitted he was worried about a second meeting against Dinuba.
“Drawing Dinuba in the first round, I’d be lying to you if I wasn’t (nervous),” he said. “Just knowing the history of the two communities and our programs, I’ve got nothing but respect for coach (CJ) Lester and the Emperors. Every year they’re a battle, and even when they left our league we kept them on our schedule. They’re so physical, and they play physical.”
But on this night, it was Kingsburg making all the big plays, starting with its first possession. On fourth down and 4 from the Dinuba 40, Warkentin cleared right end on a rollout sweep, broke a tackle and deftly stayed in bounds to race to the end zone. On the ensuing possession following a Dinuba punt, Dalyn Breckinridge’s 43-yard reception set up a Gagnon short scoring run and the rout was on.
Lester said the program will miss the offensive contributions of seniors Ramirez and Diego Tuttle. Two-way standout Ramirez was a physical force at fullback and on the defensive line, and running back Tuttle surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season.
“We’ve got some guys coming back that are going to be ready to go,” Lester said. “And there are some guys at our JV level that worked their butts off and (will step up). We’ve just got to go back to consistent football and complementary football, and once we can do that we’ll get back to where we want to be.”