Hughson Section Champs
Hughson celebrates first Section title since 2000 after clutch defensive plays against Summerville

Hughson’s season and the chance for a Sac-Joaquin Section football championship came down to this Saturday afternoon: a two-point conversion with 10 seconds to play. Leading 14-13, the Huskies had to stop the Bears to win the Division VI title.

Hughson coach Shaun King called timeout. He and defensive coordinator D.J. Sexton went out to talk with their players near the goal line.

“D.J. told our defensive tackles, Roylee Prunty and David Burciago, to go wide,” King said. “It was a great moment. Roylee said, ‘Are you sure coach?’ And D.J. said, ‘They are not going inside, they are going to the right.’ And he was spot on.”

Just as Sexton predicted, Summerville quarterback Braylon Leveroos rolled to his right on the two-point attempt. He had an option to run or pass, but Hughson outside linebacker Liam Bridgford cut off any chance Leveroos had to run into the endzone.

“Our guys just flowed right where they were supposed to be. There was nowhere for the quarterback to go,” King said. “He threw a pass too late and Gavin Stone knocked it down.”

The celebration began on the Hughson sideline, the game seemingly over. But Summerville still wasn’t done. The Bears recovered an onside kick – “the most perfect onside kick I’ve ever seen,” King admitted – and the Huskies had to sweat out two more plays on defense. Both were incomplete passes, allowing Hughson to earn its first Section football title and the coveted blue banner that goes with it since 2000.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said King. “I had that banner with me all weekend. It’s really a feeling that you can only dream of.”

The victory means the Huskies (11-2) will play at least one more game, this one on Friday night at home against Ripon Christian (11-2) for the Northern California Division 5-AA championship. A win this week would vault Hughson into the state championship game on Dec. 10 against the Southern California champion, either Palo Verde Valley (13-1) of Blythe or Muir (8-6).

If the Hughson defense continues to play like it did against Summerville, anything is possible. The Huskies – led by middle linebacker David Burns – swarmed to the ball the entire game and managed to keep Leveroos bottled up. That was the opposite of what happened Sept. 9, when Summerville came to Hughson and defeated the Huskies 23-14.

“I was very confident with our defense,” said King. “I read some things early in the week that Summerville wasn’t giving credit to our defense after our previous matchup. But we had a good week of practice. Our scout team quarterback’s (Carter Snead) job all week was to scramble. He’s fast and he’s shifty and that’s what we wanted to prepare us for Summerville.”

Mission accomplished. For three quarters Saturday at St. Mary’s High in Stockton, the Bears couldn’t get untracked. As usual, it was Burns who led the way. The junior finished with 12 solo tackles and four assists. Along the way, he broke the record for tackles in a season (123) set in 1997 by Ryan Loftin, who went on to play at the University of Oregon.

For much of the game, it appeared Hughson might even hold Summerville scoreless. The Huskies had taken a 7-0 lead at halftime after a 10-minute, 20-play drive that spanned parts of the first and second quarters and ended with Alex Villareal’s 3-yard run.

“(We got) great pushes from our offensive line and our whole entire offense.” sophomore quarterback Robert McDaniel told the Modesto Bee.

The first half ended with Hughson stopping Summerville on downs inside the 5-yard line. When Bridgford capped another drive with a short run in the fourth quarter, Hughson had a 14-0 lead and all the momentum on its side. But the next time the Huskies had the ball, they fumbled deep in their own territory. The Bears recovered the loose ball and ran it in 17 yards for a score, narrowing the gap to 14-7.

Hughson’s next drive ended in a punt, giving Summerville one last shot with a little less than 2 minutes to play. The Bears marched downfield and scored on a short pass with 10 seconds left in regulation. Rather than kick an extra point and take their chances in overtime, they elected to go for two points and the win.

Burns said there was nothing that was going to stop the Huskies, especially on the dramatic two-point conversion.

“I felt confident in our defense to get a stop on that last stand,” he told the Bee. “I knew we had the team to win, we just needed to stay confident in ourselves and keep our momentum. We knew what we had to do. We all wanted this for Hughson because it has been so long. We knew we had to get a stop and we’re not gonna lose.”

King said Saturday’s game was the best Hughson has played on defense all season.

“The mentality is different now than in September,” he praised. “There is so much more focus and intensity. It’s a championship mentality. The last three games have been so close. We don’t quit. We don’t give up. We don’t back down to anybody.”

Next up is Ripon Christian which, like Hughson, captured the Section Division VII championship despite not winning its own league. The Knights finished second to Orestimba in the Southern League, just as Hughson finished second in the Trans-Valley League to Hilmar. Ripon Christian beat Woodland Christian 28-16 in its Section title on Friday.

Clearly, the strength of small-school football in this area got the attention of the people who determine the NorCal matchups.

“I have no idea how they figure that stuff out,” said King about the NorCal lineup. “I had heard we might play Clear Lake or Orland. Ripon Christian was never mentioned. Then the Ripon Christian coach called me Sunday about 12:30 and asked to exchange film. I didn’t believe it. It didn’t make sense to play another team in our Section, another team just 12 miles away. I thought someone was messing with me. I called our athletic director, Joel Bernard. He said he had a missed call from the CIF. He called them back and then he called me to confirm it.”

King said RC’s athleticism and height – there are a bunch of its basketball players on the football team – will present some challenges, but nothing the Huskies haven’t seen before.

“They’re tall. They’re physical. They’re well-coached,” said King. “I think it will be a good matchup.”

And if the rain that is in the forecast for later this week happens to come through?

“We might have ourselves a little mud bowl here,” said King. “That’s good for us.”