In a battle that resembled a playoff game, Clovis West saw a spirited comeback meet an unfortunate ending at Liberty-Bakersfield as the Golden Eagles came up short in a heart pounding 31-30 loss to open the season on a hot and muggy Friday night in Bakersfield.
Down 31-24 with 1:46 remaining in the game, budding star quarterback Dante Chachere engineered an impressive 73 yard drive, capped off by a 19-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Ricardo Arias in the back corner of the end zone, a tip-toeing effort that set off a frenzy on the sidelines with 15 seconds left on the clock.
All that remained was the extra point and the game would likely be sent to overtime.
However, the team was assessed an excessive celebration penalty for a player leaving the designated sideline area with his helmet off and celebrating with the players who were technically on the field.
The touchdown stood but 15 yards was marked off for the extra point which went wide right – an unfitting end to an otherwise excellent high school football game.
“We knew it was going to be a playoff-type game,” said Clovis West head coach George Petrissans. “We lost this one but it was a heck of a fight.”
Chachere, a junior making his first varsity start in place of the injured Adrian Martinez, made quite an impressive debut finishing 31-48 for 372 yards with four total touchdowns (3 passing, one rushing) and zero interceptions.
Chachere showed his speed as the 6-foot-3, 165 pounder bolted for a 56-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter and cut a 14-point Liberty lead to 28-21.
The play was reminiscent of Martinez, the four-star quarterback who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
“He didn’t exceed expectations, he actually stayed at his level of play,” said Petrissans of Chachere’s performance. “From watching him at practice and through summer, he’s been very consistent. He’s extremely intelligent with really good football knowledge.”
Clovis West played from behind for a majority of the game and found trouble containing Liberty junior running back Sam Stewart, a load to bring down at 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds.
Stewart scored three touchdowns in the game, the first a 20-yard run, which was answered by Chachere’s first touchdown, a 21-yard strike to senior Nick Coleman with 1:09 left in the first quarter to tie it 7-7.
An Isaiah Hill-to-Stewart 18-yard touchdown screen pass with 8:50 left in the second made the score 14-7 Liberty, which would stand up to halftime.
After a Hill 5-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter made it 21-7, Chachere hit a streaking Gabe Solorio, who has miraculously recovered from a severe broken leg suffered against Rocklin last season, down the sideline for a 54-yard bomb.
In the fourth quarter, Clovis West’s Eli Riofrio kicked a 34-yard field goal to cut the lead to 24-31 with 2:09 left, and the defense led by linebacker D.J. and Dusty Schramm stood tall, forcing a punt and setting up the Golden Eagles’ fateful final drive.
“There’s obvious things to be proud about and there’s obvious things to work on,” said Petrissans. “I know our guys are going to respond and do that.”
Liberty beat Clovis West for the second consecutive year in the opener (28-24 last season) but count Liberty coach Bryan Hixon impressed with the Golden Eagles.
“They are a phenomenal football team and well coached and they do things we expect them to do – it was a great first game of the year,” said Hixon, who won the D-I Valley title over Clovis High in 2015. “They have a lot of talent, we just had to battle. That was a hard 48-minute ball game.”
Clovis West travels back to Bakersfield to face Centennial on Sept. 1.