A wild ride that started with two touchdowns by the Liberty Ranch Jr. Hawks and later turned into a five-point difference with Bear River turned into a heart-thumping victory for the 10U Jr. Hawks, who overcame a deficit to win the Sacramento Youth Football Div. 5 Championship.
The Jr. Hawks, who had led nearly the entire afternoon, quickly found themselves needing to take action with 3:23 left in the game as Bear River scored on a 16-yard reception that put them on top for the first time in the game with an 18-13 lead.
Unfazed, the Jr. Hawk offense answered on the very next play, limiting the Jr. Bruins’ brief moment of happiness to just 20 seconds.
With the Jr. Hawk offensive line clearing a path, Kymani Fenika weaved his way toward the right side of the field on the kick return and ran for a long touchdown that suddenly put his team back on top with 3:03 left. Joshua Wyatt Blevins then kicked the PAT, which gave the Jr. Hawks two extra points and was the first PAT kick taken in the game.
The Jr. Hawks suddenly led 21-18.
Bear River didn’t let their situation lag, however.
The Jr. Bruins worked their way to the Jr. Hawks’ 40-yard line with 1:19 left, but were frustrated by the Jr. Hawk defense and eventually found themselves in a fourth down situation.
Fenika ended the scoring threat by taking matters into own hands as he intercepted the ball at the Jr. Hawk 29-yard line and put the Jr. Hawks back in control with 53.2 seconds remaining.
The interception sent Fenika’s teammates cheering as they enjoyed their newfound possession.
As the final buzzer sounded 53.2 seconds later, the Jr. Hawks ran toward the sideline, greeting their coaches with leaps, hugs and yells.
The Jr. Bruins had had just seven points scored against them when playing teams other than the Jr. Hawks, according to Jr. Hawk athletic director T.J. Guidotti after the game, and had a 6-0 regular season record, according to Sacramento Youth Football’s website.
Having finished the regular season with a winning record, the Jr. Hawks won the first round of the Div. 5 playoffs, which advanced the team to the SYF Championship game against the Jr. Bruins, which finished the regular season in first place.
Fenika scored all three of the Jr. Hawks’ touchdowns. Along with his clutch interception, it was easily a day to remember for Fenika and the Jr. Hawk offense, which scored twice in the first half.
After reaching their own 42-yard line in the first quarter, the Jr. Hawks scored when Fenika completed a 58-yard play with 3:39 left for a 6-0 lead.
The Jr. Hawk defense then effectively smothered the Jr. Bruins, who were stopped on one play with nice tackles by Joseph Adams and Braden Tanous and later with tackles by Tanous and Sean O’Brien.
Bear River ended up turning the ball over on downs at the start of the second quarter, and Fenika scored several plays later on an 84-yard run as well as the extra point, producing a 13-0 Liberty Ranch lead with 6:30 left.
The Jr. Hawks kept their momentum rolling when Blevins recovered the Jr. Hawks’ kick at their own 46-yard line; however, the Jr. Bruins managed to hold the Jr. Hawks scoreless on that possession and eventually scored their first touchdown on a five-yard run with 1:05 left to put themselves within 13-6.
The Jr. Bruins then renewed their hope as they scored again with 9.6 seconds left, although they were stopped on the extra point attempt for a 13-12 game at halftime.
The Jr. Hawks were the only team from their organization to reach the championships after all four teams qualified for the playoffs. Tears and smiles from an assortment of Jr. Hawks marked the moments after the score became final and before they were handed their championship trophy in the post-game award ceremony.