Portola’s Ricky Lowdermilk breaks a tackle from one of Chester’s defenders during the Division IV championship game Nov. 21. Photos by James Wilson
Portola traveled to Chester last Wednesday, Nov. 21, with a vendetta. Chester tarnished Portola’s perfect record the last game of the regular season and the two teams once again faced each other — this time in the Northern Section Division IV championship game.
The Tigers settled the score that night and took the championship with a 42-13 win over the Volcanoes.
“We just didn’t show up for some reason,” said Chester’s coach, Terry Hernandez. “We moved the ball no problem, but when we got close I guess we got afraid of the end zone. We hadn’t played that poorly all year.”
Fans of both teams filled up Chester’s stands and watched two Plumas County teams compete in the championship for the first time in history.
Portola’s defense was trained at stripping the ball and Chester had trouble retaining possession throughout the game. Portola found whatever holes were in Chester’s defense and slipped through them for a total of six touchdowns.
When Chester held on to the ball they made slow progressive drives. The Volcanoes fought hard, but the Tigers’ defense was too much for them to handle.
“To put it nicely, we just froze,” said Hernandez. “We had defensive backs letting receivers run by them uncovered. We normally never do that. Some of our linebackers just sat and waited around.”
Oscar Romero — who was named the MVP of the game — led the Tigers’ offense and ploughed through Chester’s idle defense. Romero scored one touchdown and completed numerous successful rushes. Romero also handled all of the Tigers’ field goals and kickoffs.
Portola showcased its abilities from the get-go. The Tigers received the initial kickoff and, with a few key plays, scored their first touchdown.
Zack Martinez rushed for 40 yards. The next play Ricky Lowdermilk passed to Michael Martinez, who carried the ball to Chester’s 9-yard line. Lowdermilk once again passed to a wide-open Martinez, who caught the ball in the end zone. Romero kicked the extra point.
Chester received the kickoff, but its time holding possession was brief. As the Volcanoes attempted to make some yards, Portola’s Dakota Price stripped the ball and recovered to once again give the Tigers the ball.
After a short drive to the 1-yard line, Klint Williams rushed the ball in for Portola’s second touchdown.
Shortly after Chester received the kickoff, Portola’s Zack Martinez was knocked hard enough to be put out of the game. Martinez was the Tigers’ main running back during the season and rushed for more than 1,600 yards this year.
“We lost our best running back and the third best running back in the Northern Section,” said Heskett. “Some teams would have folded the tent, but my players viewed it differently. Injuries sometimes provide opportunities.”
Romero replaced Martinez as the Tigers’ running back and Abron Colin replaced his defensive position. Romero took the opportunity as a moment to shine.
Chester turned the ball over for the second time when quarterback Hunter Morris tossed the ball back to David Estacio. The ball flew behind Estacio and Portola jumped on it to end the first quarter with possession.
The second quarter started a little slow; both teams were unable to complete a drive. Portola got to the 6-yard line when Chester’s Estacio intercepted the ball in the end zone. The next play Portola’s Romero struck back and intercepted the ball to once again put the Tigers at Chester’s 6-yard line. Williams rushed in for his second touchdown of the game.
Chester, behind 21-0, had the ball at its own 30-yard line with two minutes left in the half. Morris passed to Micah Bondon who carried the ball 40 yards. Morris then kept the ball two plays for a gain of 14. Rocklin Loranger rushed for four yards. Colin Houlihan rushed for the first down. Houlihan finally rushed in for Chester’s first touchdown. Bondon missed the extra point to put Chester behind 21-6 at the half.
Chester began a long drive at the beginning of the half. The Volcanoes slowly inched their way down the field with gains of five yards at a time. They weren’t able to hold onto the ball, however, and Portola’s Flint Fambrough recovered another Volcano fumble.
Romero shined especially bright in the third quarter, dodging and jumping over Chester’s defense. Williams rushed the ball in for Portola’s fourth touchdown and his third of the night. Kameron Osbourn ran the ball in for a two-point conversion.
Lowdermilk intercepted the ball from Chester toward the end of the third quarter. The unstoppable team continued dominating the game on both sides of the ball into the fourth quarter as Romero rushed for Portola’s fifth touchdown.
Never giving up, Chester retaliated with a touchdown of its own. Houlihan set the drive in motion with a 40-yard rush. Morris completed the drive when he snuck his way into the end zone. Bondon kicked the extra point.
Chester attempted an onside kick, but Portola recovered the ball with decent field position.
With two minutes left in the game, Portola scored its final touchdown. Tim Benbow rushed 27 yards for the TD.
With a 42-13 lead, Portola’s fans began celebrating early. The crowd and players on the sideline sang “Happy Birthday” to coach Heskett. A couple of Portola’s players picked up the bucket of Gatorade and dumped it on Heskett.
Once the clock ran out, Portola’s fans ran out onto the field to celebrate with the team. Bottles of sparkling cider were distributed and the players sprayed Chester’s field with the dessert beverage. Portola just won the championship.
“I am very proud of how my team played all in all,” said Heskett. “This was a magical year for us.”
Chester’s coach Hernandez has high hopes for next year. All but seven of Chester’s current team will return to the field next year.
“It was still a great season. You can’t complain about 10-2. I think we’re going to be really solid for the next few years.”