Hughson vs. Orestimba
Hughson scores with 1:14 to play to beat Orestimba 21-14, moves on to Division VI title game on Saturday

Shaun King understood the magnitude of the moment. His Hughson football team – already trailing Orestimba 17-14 early in the fourth quarter of their Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI playoff game Friday night – couldn’t afford to give up any more points.

So with the Warriors facing a fourth-and-2 from the Hughson 16-yard line, King took advantage of a timeout called by Orestimba and went on the field to talk with his defense.

“This is it,” he told his team. “This is our season.”

The Huskies’ defenders no doubt were inspired, but it was a dropped pass by Orestimba that stopped the drive and gave Hughson the ball back. The Huskies turned that gift into the game-winning score, which came on a 12-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Robert McDaniel to sophomore receiver to Malakai Sumter with 1 minute, 14 seconds to play. That lifted Hughson to a thrilling 21-17 victory at Husky Memorial Stadium and a spot in Saturday’s Section championship game.

In the finals, the No. 2-seeded Hughson (10-2) will face No. 1 Summerville (11-1), which dominated Bradshaw Christian 40-14 in the other semifinal. The title game will kick off at 1 p.m. at St. Mary’s High School in Stockton.

It is the first time Hughson will play for a Section championship since 2000, when the Huskies defeated Colfax for the Division III crown.

Against Orestimba, Hughson showed remarkable resilience, twice coming from behind to take the lead.

“We don’t freak out,” King said. “It’s a very seasoned team. That’s who we are. There was no yelling. Just stay calm and we’ll be fine.”

The final drive was evidence of that teamwide belief and quiet confidence.

After stopping Orestimba on fourth down, Hughson methodically marched  84 yards behind an offensive line that consistently opened holes for Liam Bridgford (103 yards rushing) and Alex Villareal (80 yards).

“We finished them off and we wore them out,” King said of Orestimba. “Our offensive linemen knew what to do. Nothing needed to be said. We just ran it. We wanted to take as much time off the clock as we could. Just chew the clock and don’t give them the ball back with much time left.”

Mission accomplished. The only pass on the winning drive was the TD from McDaniel to Sumter, which came after a fake handoff that fooled Orestimba’s defense.

The Huskies then made sure Orestimba wouldn’t have a chance to regain the lead when Gavin Stone recovered an intentionally short pooch kickoff.

“We’ve been working on that play since August,” said King. “We’ve done it before, but it never worked as well as it did. That was the best it’s ever looked at the time we needed it the most.”

Orestimba jumped out to a 10-0 lead Friday before Hughson rallied on McDaniel’s first TD pass, which came in the second quarter to David Delgado. The extra point was blocked and the Huskies trailed 10-6 at halftime.

Delgado got Hughson off to a fast start in the second half by intercepting a pass on Orestimba’s first series. That seemed to spark the Huskies’ offense, which quickly drove down the field and took the lead on Bridgford’s 2-yard run. He followed with a two-point conversion to make the score 14-10 Hughson.

Orestimba responded later in the third quarter and took a 17-14 lead on a 31-yard TD pass from Alex Millan to Vince Lopez.

Hughson punted and Orestimba drove to the Huskies’ 16-yard line on its next possession, setting up the fourth-down stop that led to the winning drive for Hughson.

Defensively for the Huskies, junior linebacker David Burns was the standout with 11 tackles, including Hughson’s only sack.

Next up for Hughson is a rematch with Summerville, which defeated the Huskies 23-14 in Hughson on Sept. 9.

“We’re definitely excited,” said King. “I think Summerville has improved, but they really haven’t been tested in the playoffs. They’ve got a good quarterback and running back tandem. We’re going to have to tackle well.”

The Huskies will practice all week – including for two hours on Thanksgiving morning – in preparation for the title game, which King hopes will end with a second blue banner denoting a championship for the school to hang in the gym.

A victory Saturday also would move Hughson into the NorCal finals the following week with a state title game after that, should the Huskies win again. First things first, however. Beating Summerville is the only thing that matters for now.

“We’re excited,” King said. “We hope to get a big crowd in Stockton.”