The story of De La Salle football is well-known: a national record 151-game winning streak from 1992-2004, seven state and national titles, and a movie, When the Game Stands Tall, about the Concord-based juggernaut football program.
Be that as it may, when the state and national power marched into town, Buchanan answered the call with a proud proclamation: we belong.
After De La Salle returned the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, Buchanan played the Spartans even the rest of the way, displaying resiliency and inspired football in a 31-24 loss on Military Appreciation Night in front of a standing room only crowd at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
And if it wasn’t for the first 15 seconds of the game, who knows, the Bears certainly had more than a puncher’s chance to upset the mighty Spartans.
“I am extremely proud of our players, they showed a lot tonight,” Buchanan coach Matt Giordano said. “To say that we have room to improve after playing a team like that says a lot of our team.”
De La Salle came in as Cal-Hi Sports No. 3 ranked team while Buchanan entered at No. 20.
After giving up a 62-yard touchdown pass and facing an early 14-0 deficit, Buchanan rallied late in the first quarter with two touchdowns from five-star running back Kendall Milton; an electric 72-yard burst and a powerful 3-yard plunge to make the score 14-13.
That would be as close as Buchanan would get, but not without showing the Central Valley, and the state, the Bears are for real in limiting De La Salle to only a field goal in the second half.
“We played our hearts out and showed what we are capable of as a team,” said Milton, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound physical specimen who also saw time as a linebacker.
After giving up a deflating late touchdown with 39 seconds left in the half which led to a 28-13 deficit, Buchanan’s Brock Jones ignited the Bears and took the second half kickoff to the 30-yard line. Four plays later, Milton punched in a 3-yard touchdown for his third touchdown of the game.
Sophomore quarterback D.J. Stevenson ran in the 2-point conversion to make the score 28-21.
The Spartans (6-0) then pushed their lead to 31-21 with a 27-yard field goal with late in the third quarter and Buchanan’s Race Mahlum booted a 27-yarder of his own to cut the lead to 31-24 with 4:37 left in the game.
However, De La Salle would gain two first downs and ran out the clock to move to 6-0 on the season.
“These kids didn’t panic and played with poise,” Giordano said. “I think the Bears grew up tonight … we’ll keep growing as the season goes.”
The Bears defense stopped De La Salle twice on fourth down and forced two turnovers; an interception by Jalen Cropper and a fumble recovery by Steven Scheidt.
Bob Ladouceur, the legendary architect of De La Salle football from 1979-2011 who now assists Justin Alumbaugh, had high praise for Buchanan: “Those guys are talented – their runners are outstanding and their defense was tough.”
He also loved what he a saw from Milton: “We had guys in the right spots but it’s tough to stop a guy like that … he’s special.”
Now, the Bears turn their attention to Central when they take on the defending TRAC and Central Section champion Grizzlies, who beat them 29-7 in last year’s title game.
“There’s a quote we live by in our program, ‘Champions behave like champions before they’re champions,’” Giordano said, attributing the quote to Bill Walsh. “I think they showed they have a champion-like heart, and now we have a lot to clean up and we need to do it quickly because we are playing an amazing team next Friday.”