Coming off a Division III Central Section Championship and led by highly-recruited wide receiver Jalen McMillan, the San Joaquin Memorial-Fresno Panthers were no joke.
The Clovis East Timberwolves learned that in gut-wrenching fashion Friday night.
Panthers quarterback Finn Collins tossed three touchdowns, including the go-ahead 13-yard touchdown pass to receiver Mac Dalena, in Memorial’s thrilling 20-17 victory over Clovis East.
Clovis East head coach Ryan Reynolds knew what kind of game his team was in for, facing a Panthers squad boasting Division-I talent.
“Memorial has a couple of really good players, where if your footwork or technique isn’t right, they’re gonna get you,” Reynolds said.
McMillan showed why it’s dangerous to make a mistake guarding him, with a blazing 78-yard touchdown catch-and-run in the first quarter.
What made the play especially devastating for Timberwolves fans was that it wiped away the joy of quarterback Sean Kelly’s 10-yard touchdown run just a play earlier.
Quarterbacking for Clovis East could mean handing the ball off a lot, but Kelly held his own in the rushing game Friday.
Along with Kelly’s 10-yard score, the junior signal caller ran in another score from 16 yards out in the second quarter to give the Timberwolves a 14-7 lead headed into halftime.
Coming into the second half, the Timberwolves defense focused on limiting McMillan’s big
plays, double teaming him numerous times. In the process, they failed to account for the Panthers slot receiver, Dalena.
Dalena made the Timberwolves pay with two big touchdowns in the second half; a 27-yard
touchdown catch in the third quarter to tie the game and a diving 13-yard touchdown grab to put the Panthers ahead 20-17 with three minutes left in the game.
Clovis East had a chance for a game-winning drive and moved the ball down to Memorial’s
There, the offense stalled and Kelly’s final two pass attempts of the game bounced off the hands of Panthers defenders. Clovis East turned the ball over on downs and Memorial escaped. Kelly reflected after the game on what went wrong in the final series.
“I could’ve thrown the receivers better balls in that final drive. I feel our team let up in the second half, and from this game I learned to never let your foot off the gas,” said Kelly.
Clovis East proved they can hang tough with the best in the Central Valley and even though
they lost, they also learned a lot on Friday night.
Clovis East (3-2) has a bye next week before opening TRAC play against Clovis High on
October 4. San Joaquin Memorial (4-1) also has a bye next week and will open their league play against Bullard October 4.