The last time a Pierce football team made it to the section championship was in 2004, when then high school freshman Anthony Tapia was a JV player watching the game from the sidelines.
This season however the cycle has come full circle with Tapia, now the head coach, guiding the Bears back to the championship game for the first time in 15 years after his team disposed of the No. 3 Winters Warriors 46-7 in the semifinal round of the NSCIF Division IV playoffs last Friday night at Gregg Le Master Field.
While the final score may not indicate it, the first half was close, although the No. 2 seeded Bears did strike first, completing a nine play 97-yard drive that included a 35-yard run by quarterback Eduardo Paiz and ended with Eduardo Ambriz finding the end zone from three yards out half way through the first period to put Pierce on top 7-0.
Despite having chances however, it would be the only points Pierce would put on the board until the closing seconds of the first half when the Bear defense forced the Warriors to turn the ball over on downs.
Then with just 17 seconds on the clock Paiz completed a short pass to Luke Voorhees who did the rest, cutting across the field and racing down the far sideline for a 75-yard touchdown that sent the Bears into the locker room at halftime with a 14-0 advantage.
It was an important score for Pierce, who has struggled of late to put points on the board in the first half as Tapia explained, “That was a big touchdown. It really helped and gave the whole team a shot of energy.”
As it turned out, the Voorhees touchdown was significant for another reason as well, because after intermission, Winters mounted its best drive of the night cutting the deficit in half when quarterback Carson Lowrie scored on a three-yard run in what would ultimately be the Warriors only points of the night.
Undeterred though the Bears answered, responding on the ensuing drive to take a 22-7 lead after freshman call-up Manuel Lopez ran it in from four yards out then also converted the two point try to change the momentum for good as Pierce stood poised to break the game open in the fourth quarter.
Paiz got things started, extending the lead with a one yard plunge before Justin Mathews intercepted a pass giving the ball back to the Bears.
Pierce wasted little time with the opportunity as Paiz found Daniel Medina who made a nifty catch over the defender then cruised into the end zone to complete the 43-yard scoring play, making it a 38-7 game after the Bears’ second touchdown in a 29-second span.
With Winters trying to play catch up, the Pierce secondary made its third interception of the night on a pick by Ambriz, although the offense could not exploit the opportunity.
However, on the next defensive series sophomore Tristan Flores did capitalize on another Warrior miscue, scooping up a fumble and running it back 74 yards for the Bears’ final points of the contest.
It was a good night for the offense as Paiz, the junior quarterback led the way completing seven passes for 175 yards and two scores in addition to picking up another 71 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Senior Aiden Charter ran wild carrying 11 times for 129 yards while Voorhees hauled in five passes for 99 yards and a touchdown.
On defense the Bears held Winters to 290 of offensive output while forcing five turnovers. Ambriz and Flores both finished the night with five tackles, Coby Elvert pitched in with a first half interception, while Voorhees had two fumble recoveries along with a sack and a half.
While the Bears got notable performances from Paiz and Charter amongst others, it was Voorhees who made substantial contributions on both sides of the ball as Tapia noted after the game.
“I can’t say enough good things about Luke. Tonight he dropped a pass in the end zone and I got on him. He didn’t get down on himself though, he came back out and made plays that carried us, just like he always does,” said the second-year head coach.
With the win, Pierce (8-4) will have its hands full in the title game tonight as they travel to Trowbridge to face the four-time defending section champion and No. 1 seed East Nicolaus Spartans (11-1), where i Tapia is looking forward to the challenge.
“East Nic is the standard, but if we come out and play to our potential we can hang with them. We need to believe we can compete. This is the foundation we want to build upon so that reaching this game is not so rare because the section championship ultimately is the goal.”