TULARE – With just a few weeks left in the regular season, teams with losing records in league play are looking to find any momentum they can in order to go on a postseason run. Heading into Thursday night, Oct. 5, at Bob Mathias Stadium, both Dinuba and Tulare Western football had an 0-1 record in the West Yosemite League and needed a big win.
While the home team put up a good fight, it was the visiting Dinuba Emperors who emerged victorious with a 32-20 win to improve their record to 1-1 in league play and 4-3 overall. After a tough loss to Hanford the previous week, Dinuba head coach CJ Lester liked how his team responded.
“Our kids battled. They got beat down pretty bad last week so I didn’t know how they were going to respond but they responded well,” Lester said. “We wanted to see what our guys were going to be about and they answered the call.”
Lester gave credit to his freshman quarterback Tony Ibarra, who got the starting nod for the Emperors. Despite a slow start, Ibarra and the offense eventually found their footing to lead the way to victory.
“We wanted to bring up the freshman and see if he could give us a spark and he definitely did tonight,” Lester said. “Our guys rallied around him and I think he’s going to be a big guy for us.”
But before the offense got on a roll, the Dinuba defense made the first big play of the game. On Tulare Western’s first possession, Dinuba’s Dominique Nunez intercepted a pass and ran it back for a touchdown.
Looking to respond, the Mustangs marched all the way down to the Emperor five-yard line, where quarterback Xaviar Garcia found Mikey Johnson for a touchdown. Jaanveer Singh then ran it in for a two-point conversion to give the Mustangs an 8-7 lead.
But the lead was short lived. After a pair of three and outs to start the night, Dinuba’s ground game got rolling. Julian Ramirez capped off the drive with a one-yard touchdown run and the offense converted a two-point attempt to take a 15-8 lead.
With the offense and defense already making big plays, Dinuba special teams wanted in on the fun. As the Mustangs lined up to punt, the Emperors tackled the punter in the backfield to turn it over on downs. On the very next play, Diego Tuttle broke loose for a 20-yard score to extend the lead to 22-8.
But the Mustangs kept with it. Late in the half, the Mustangs recovered a Dinuba fumble at the 50-yard line. Garcia then connected with Aubrey Taylor deep down the left sideline, who took it in for the touchdown to make it a 22-14 game at halftime.
The Mustangs got the opening possession of the second half and were looking to further cut into the deficit. From their own 44-yard line, Garcia completed another deep throw to Taylor, who looked like he was about to score. But before he broke the plane, a Dinuba defender forced the ball out of Taylor’s hands and another Emperor recovered the ball in the end zone.
“We shot ourselves right in the foot,” Tulare Western head coach Derek Rosa said about the turnovers. “We made big plays but when we really needed the big play, it just went the other way.”
The Emperors quickly capitalized on the turnover with a 28-yard touchdown run from Matthew Guido to stretch the lead to 29-14. After the Mustangs failed to convert on fourth down, the Emperors scored a field goal to make it 32-14.
The Mustangs scored to cut the deficit to 32-20, but time ran out. The loss to Dinuba was the Mustangs’ fourth in a row, dropping them to 0-2 in league play and 2-5 overall. With time running out this fall, Rosa hopes to get the most out of his kids the rest of the way.
“My message to them is that you have to pour out more than what you got. If you’re giving me 100%, let’s try to find an extra couple percent somewhere,” Rosa said. “It’s not that these kids aren’t working hard and playing hard, but we just have to do more and we have to find it from somewhere.”
After pulling out the win over the Mustangs, Lester knows how important this win will be for the Emperors as they try to finish the year strong with three more games in the West Yosemite League.
“We needed this win,” Lester said. “Our guys continued to fight and we knew that if we didn’t make mistakes, didn’t turn the ball over and took care of things on defense, we would be fine.”