2nd half rally by Reedley High football falls short

Rios scores two touchdowns in first game since cancer diagnosis, Sanger West posts first football victory in program history while Orosi ground game buries Madera South

Reedley High quarterback Will Bacon fires a pass to the left flat during the Pirates’ 22-19 loss to Firebaugh High on Aug. 18. Bacon passed for 81 yards and two touchdowns and ran 10 times for 50 yards and another score. (Danny Jimenez)
Reedley High quarterback Will Bacon fires a pass to the left flat during the Pirates’ 22-19 loss to Firebaugh High on Aug. 18. Bacon passed for 81 yards and two touchdowns and ran 10 times for 50 yards and another score. (Danny Jimenez)
Jon Earnest
Published August 21, 2023  • 
10:30 am

REEDLEY – An inexperienced Reedley High football team found itself in a big early deficit, but an inspiring performance by senior leader Malachi Rios almost brought the Pirates all the way back for a season-opening victory.

Rios, who is slated to play just two games this season before resuming chemotherapy sessions after the return of his stage 4 cancer, caught a pair of touchdown passes in the second half as Reedley, trailing 22-0 at halftime. The Pirates staged a fierce rally before losing by a 22-19 score to the visiting Firebaugh High Eagles in their season opener at Sal Gonzalez Field on Aug. 18.

The Pirates entered the season completely overhauling their skill position players after heavy graduation losses, including the team’s leading rusher, receiver and three-year veteran quarterback. But the team entered the opener with the emotional boost of the return to the field of Rios, if only for a short while. The senior, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the end of last season and underwent three rounds of chemotherapy in the offseason, discovered that his cancer had recurred in June and derailed his full comeback attempt.

Rios is scheduled to receive his chemotherapy port on Aug. 28 and resume new rounds of treatment at that time. As it turns out, the Firebaugh game may be his only action but his emotional return to the field stirred the crowd in attendance.

The visiting Eagles used an edge in experience to take a 6-0 lead after one quarter, and then added a pair of TDs and 2-point conversions to build the advantage to 22 at the break. Isaac Ceja threw for a pair of touchdowns to Inez Felix while Ryan Luna ran for another score.

“Our lack of varsity experience showed in the first half,” said RHS head coach Tony Gates. “We had several assignment errors on defense that cost us and limited the opportunity for our offense to get on the field.”

But after halftime adjustments by the coaching staff and team, the Pirates charged back in the final 24 minutes. Quarterback Will Bacon found paydirt by running for 9 of his 50 rushing yards on a scoring dash around left end with five minutes left in the third quarter, cutting the deficit to 22-6 after a missed extra point.

Then Bacon and Rios went to work. The duo hooked up on a 7-yard scoring strike with just under seven minutes remaining in the game, but a missed 2-point try left the Pirates still 10 points shy at 22-12. After getting the ball back, Reedley scored with 2 minutes, 26 seconds left when Bacon found Rios in the back of the end zone from 14 yards out. The PAT made it a three-point game, but the Pirates ran out of time.

“The team grew up a lot and I anticipate we will continue to grow each snap of the ball,” Gates said of his young squad. Rios finished with three catches for 59 yards and the two scores, Bacon finished 5 of 19 for 81 yards with an interception, and running back Demetrius Vargas rushed 23 times for 120 yards.

Reedley hosts its second straight home game at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25, when Roosevelt High of Fresno comes to town. It’s the season opener for the Rough Riders.

In other games on Aug. 18:

Sanger West 61, Del Oro 0

At Bakersfield, it didn’t take the Sanger West High Hornets long to crack the victory column after an 0-10 inaugural football season in 2022. Opening the season against new school Del Oro High from southeast Bakersfield, the Hornets used their year of experience to dominate the Sun by a 61-0 score.

“I’ve been waiting for a while for this one,” SWHS head coach Rob Thompson told The Bakersfield Californian after the win. “It’s a breath of fresh air, man. It’s been a whole year … The kids have been grinding really hard. We didn’t have seniors last year and that was a big toll on us.”

Now, the Hornets have a senior class and underclass players who gained valuable varsity experience while taking their lumps. Junior quarterback Arion Ciato passed for 224 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for another score.

Defensively, Sanger West collected nine sacks and forced four turnovers, according to The Californian recap, and senior Elpidio Gamez returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown. Gamez also had a 42-yard punt return for a score for the Hornets, whose varsity roster has grown by nearly 20 this season to 52 players.

Sanger West remains on the road this week, heading north to take on Liberty-Madera Ranchos in a 7:30 p.m. start on Friday, Aug. 25. The Hornets’ home opener will be Friday, Sept. 1 at Tom Flores Hall of Fame Stadium in Sanger against Justin Garza High of Fresno.

Justin Garza 32, Immanuel 12

At Immanuel Sports Complex, the Eagles trailed by just a touchdown at halftime and in the third quarter before the visiting Guardians from Fresno closed out the game on a 19-6 scoring run to capture the season opener.

Garza High scored the only points in the first half on a fumble return in the opening quarter, then added two rushing and two passing touchdowns in the final 24 minutes. Immanuel had narrowed the deficit to 13-6 in the third quarter, and had its other score on a touchdown pass from senior Jake Horn in the final period.

The Eagles are idle this week, but return to action with a 7:30 p.m. non-league home game against Fowler on Friday, Sept. 1. The Redcats lost 39-27 at home against Corcoran in their opener on Aug. 18.

Orosi 56, Madera South 33

At Madera, the Cardinals rushed for 496 yards – 227 from senior Andrew Camarillo and 150 by senior Justin Villatoro – and erupted for 38 second-half points to thump the host Stallions.

Camarillo scored three touchdowns, and upped his career totals to 4,205 yards and 61 touchdowns (60 on the ground). Villatoro added two TDs while quarterback Lance Lopez, Daniel Ballesteros and Jason De La Cruz all added rushing scores. Orosi trailed 21-18 at halftime, but grabbed a 34-33 lead after three quarters and then blitzed Madera South with three TDs in the fourth.

The Cardinals host Avenal High at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25 at Orosi High. The Buccaneers won at McFarland by a 42-29 score in their opener last week.

Farmersville 32, Parlier 22

At Farmersville, the Panthers trailed by just three points with 10 minutes remaining before the host Aztecs pulled away late in the debut of head coach Rick Stewart.

Junior R.J. Ramirez rushed for 28 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 12 carries, and the Panthers trailed by just 13-10 at halftime and 19-16 in the final quarter before Farmersville salted the win with a pair of touchdowns.

Junior quarterback Isaac Guillen passed for 68 yards for Parlier, which hosts Granite Hills of Porterville in its home opener at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25.

Jon Earnest