After trailing 21-0, the home team scored 24 unanswered points to take the lead. But the rally was erased when the Panthers returned a fourth-quarter kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown, downing the Tigers 27-24 before a boisterous crowd at Patterson Community Stadium.
The defeat eliminated No. 8 Patterson (7-4 overall) from the playoffs and propelled the No. 9 Panthers (8-3) to a game against No. 1 Oakdale High (10-1) on Friday, Nov. 16.
Patterson coach Nick Marchy applauded his team for its tenacity in the face of a huge deficit.
“We fought until the end. We never gave up,” Marchy told his players as they gathered at midfield following the defeat. “You cannot say that the guy next to you didn’t give it their all. This loss is going to hurt. But do not be upset about the effort you gave.”
While rain threatened overhead and the temperature hovered around 45 degrees, Benicia did its best to drive fans from the stands in the opening quarter, posting touchdowns on its first three possessions of the contest.
But those who stayed — to cheer and whoop and holler for their home team — were rewarded with a riveting finish.
“We knew we had to go out and play with heart, because this could be our last game,” said Patterson senior Dominic Dawkins. “We talked about every guy going hard on every play. We needed to go full throttle.”
Benicia reached into its bag of tricks on the first play from scrimmage, using a double-reverse flea flicker that ended with quarterback Ryan Bohnet finding a wide-open James Hyde Jr. for an 83-yard touchdown.
After an eight-play drive by the Tigers that yielded no points, the Panthers took over.
On fourth-and-2 from the Panther 40-yard line, it appeared Patterson would hold its ground and keep Benicia from scoring again.
But Drae Randolph took a handoff from Bohnet and burst up the middle before beating Patterson defenders to the outside for a 60-yard touchdown that made it 14-0.
On the next Tigers possession, it was Patterson that tried a trick. On fourth-and-5 from their own 36, the Tigers faked a punt and tried to run for a first down. But the Panthers’ special teams stopped the try and took over at the Patterson 40.
Then it was the Panthers facing fourth-and-8 from the Tigers’ 24. Bohnet fired a ball over the middle from a standard formation, and DeMariae Richardson rumbled to the end zone for a three-score advantage with 13 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Tigers were down, but they weren’t out.
“Life is about ups and downs,” Marchy said. “If we get knocked down, we stand back up and get back at it.”
The bounce-back began with Dawkins, who ignited the sideline and sent the home crowd to its feet with an electrifying 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown at the end of the opening period.
Patterson’s defense followed with a three-and-out stop on the next drive.
A long punt return by Dawkins set up the offense in scoring position, and the Tigers stormed 35 yards on five plays, capped by a 10-yard touchdown run by senior Drake Vatuvei to make it 21-14.
“My job is to do the best I can when I get the ball,” Dawkins added. “I’m not the type of guy who lets up. I wanted to try and put the team on my back.”
Dawkins’ 76-yard punt return with 36 seconds remaining before halftime continued the field position advantage for the Tigers, setting up Patterson for a first-and-goal at the Panthers’ 4-yard line.
From there, Vatuvei bulled into the end zone to tie the score at halftime.
“We went nowhere in the first quarter,” Marchy said. “(Dawkins) gave us a big spark with his returns. It just took off from there. The intensity level went from the bottom to the top.”
In the second half, Benicia placed a strong emphasis on kicking the ball away from Dawkins.
Still, Patterson stitched together a late third-quarter drive that leaked into the fourth and capped the 15-play, 84-yard possession with a 33-yard field goal by senior Bryan DeAnda.
“We never hung our heads. We still worked. We still competed,” Dawkins said. “We wanted to show people what we were all about.”
The momentum was short-lived, however, as Hyde returned the ensuing kickoff for a go-ahead score for Benicia.
With a little more than two minutes left in the game, Patterson had the ball. But the drive stalled at the Panther 46-yard line, and the Tigers turned it over on downs.
With time winding down, Benicia was content to kneel on the ball twice to run out the clock and move on to the next playoff round, ending the high school career of Tiger senior quarterback Joey Lopes.
But in a postgame speech to his teammates, Lopes urged those who will return to the gridiron in fall 2013 to learn from the season that ended moments before.
“I have two things to say,” Lopes said. “No. 1, I love every single one of you. No. 2, to the juniors, you have two days to think about this game — then it’s time to hit the weight room. Keep working. Be a better team than 7-4.”
Contact Marc Aceves at 892-6187, ext. 28, or firstname.lastname@example.org.