Over the past few games the Pierce Bears have been in a self described “funk”, but fortunately were able to break out of it last Friday night just in time to edge the Modoc Braves 14-12 at Gregg LeMaster Field and advance to the second round of the NSCIF Division IV playoffs.
At the outset, No. 2 Pierce looked sharp putting together a 15 play, 90-yard drive that consumed seven minutes of the first quarter and was capped by a Jesus Ruiz four yard plunge.
While a two point conversion afforded the Bears an 8-0 advantage, the offense was once again struck by the same malaise that has plagued them in recent weeks and was unable to gain traction until late in the game.
However, the Bear defense did its job, holding the No. 7 Braves’ run game in check for most of the first half, although with time running out in the second quarter Modoc used a fake punt to get itself in the red zone.
Following an incomplete pass, the Braves struck on a nine yard pass play, but failed on a two point conversion try allowing the Bears to maintain an 8-6 halftime lead.
Yet in the second half the Bears offense continued to struggle, turning the ball over on downs in their only possession of the third quarter and then again in opening minutes of the fourth which gave the ball to the Braves at the Pierce 39 yard line.
Four plays later Modoc took a 12-8 lead leaving the Bears in need of some come from behind heroics with 3:58 remaining in the game.
When asked about the decision to go for it on a fourth and eight in the final period, Pierce coach Anthony Tapia said he would do it again because it was about trusting his players and changing the energy.
“We liked our game plan and were trying to regain some confidence and momentum. We felt it would help us get out of this funk. It was there, but the pass was incomplete,” said Tapia.
And although the decision initially seemed questionable, it may have been the factor that snapped Pierce out of the “funk”, because on the ensuing possession, the Bears executed to perfection, providing a glimpse of their potential.
Starting the final drive on their own 34 with 3:51 to go, quarterback Eduardo Paiz connected with receiver Justin Mathews for 16 yards to reach midfield.
Running back Aiden Charter then ripped off a 15-yard run putting the Bears at the Braves’ 35.
From there, Paiz sealed the deal, scoring the go ahead touchdown on a 35 yard keeper down the sideline, which elicited a sense of relief from Tapia.
“We were excited to see that last drive after coming up short against U-Prep, Live Oak and Durham, so I believe we were meant to be tested on it. I looked at Eduardo (Paiz) today and asked if he was going to get it done. He said yes, and in the end, he did,” Tapia said.
Nonetheless, with three minutes remaining the Bears’ defense still had to hold Braves who had advanced to midfield.
At that juncture however, Pierce rose to the occasion, pressuring Modoc quarterback James Lloyd and then getting a nice defensive play from Tristan Miller to break up a pass.
Overall, while not a thing of beauty, the Bears got the job done, forcing the Braves to turn the ball over on downs and then closing out the game in victory formation.
Ruiz was the Bears leading rusher carrying 12 times for 61 yards and a touchdown while Charter gained 53 yards on nine carries and Paiz accounted for 35 yards and the game winning score.
On defense, Ruiz also played a vital role with a team high nine tackles and got support from Alex Tapia who registered six tackles and a sack along with Colby Elvert who finished with six tackles as well.
With the win, Pierce advances to the semifinal round and will host No. 3 Winters, a team they trounced 43-7 on October 25, but is on a three game win streak coming into Friday’s game.