The coach went to the ground, almost to a fetal position, too nervous to watch.
The kicker’s heart was racing so fast, he could barely catch his breath – but then he caught it. Ryan Whalley boomed a 53-yard field goal as time ran out, a boot heard around Placer County, to give Del Oro a 16-14 victory over Lincoln on Thursday night in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division II opener in Loomis.
Coach Jeff Walters and his gritty No. 7-seed Golden Eagles lived to see another day. The two-time defending D-II champions had to beat Woodcreek in the regular-season finale just to secure a playoff berth, and then they had to withstand a determined Zebras team aiming for the program’s greatest victory. Lincoln played Del Oro in 1980. Del Oro has won nine consecutive section playoff games and is 24-2 in such contests since 2010, so yes, the pressure was immense.
“I went to the ground, kept thinking, ‘be true, be true!’ ” Walters said. “Heard the hush over the crowd, then the cheer, and it was on.”
Whalley was anointed the town hero, hoisted onto the shoulders of teammates after a post-game mob scene. He wasn’t alone in making that last kick work. He needed a good snap from Hunter Silva and a good hold from Josh Gazzaniga. He got both.
A junior honors student, Whalley earned the kicking job two weeks earlier when he drilled a 53-yard field goal from the same exact spot as Friday’s effort.
“It honestly felt like a dream,” Whalley said of his game winner. “The adrenaline rush was insane. It felt great coming off my foot and as soon as it went in, my body went into shock, and then we started freaking out.”
Whalley received a standing ovation at a local In-N-Out Burger less than an hour later, an eatery full of Del Oro students.
“The whole place lit up; it was cool,” Whalley said.
Walters has now twice experienced such theatrics. He was on the 2002 Del Oro team that beat 10-0 Casa Roble 13-12 in a playoff game, thanks to a 48-yard field goal by Chris Thrall as time ran out.
Emotionally charged – Emotions ran high down the stretch with both sides frustrated with the officiating. Lincoln coaches said Del Oro had extra time to run a late play when the clock did not stop after a Golden Eagles player remained in bounds, and Lincoln fans went to social media and insisted Del Oro coaches did not shake hands with coaches and that Del Oro coaches charged after referees after winning it.
Walters did not dispute the emotions but denies any bad blood otherwise.
“Hat’s off to (Lincoln coach) Chris Bean and that staff and those players for that phenomenal effort,” Walters said. “After the game, I try to make sure our coaches and boys shake hands. With the funkiness of that last-second kick and people running all over the place, it wasn’t a clean handshake thing like if we knee down in victory formation and everyone shakes hands. I texted Coach Bean that with all the chaos, I didn’t get a chance to find him to tell him how much respect I have for him.”
Said Bean, preferring to take the high road, per his character, “In the end, (Whalley) made an incredible kick to win the game. You have to tip your cap for a kid to pull that off in a pressure-packed moment like that.”
As for the social media venom, Bean said, “We have to rethink our role in these young men’s lives. There is a lot of toxicity in society nowadays. We have to choose to be the change and that’s what we’re working on at Lincoln.”
Road warriors – Bear River has grown to appreciate its tidy trek from Grass Valley to Rosemont, some 90 minutes away.
And for the second time in three seasons, the plucky Bruins, seeded sixth in D-V, eliminated No. 3 Capital Christian 26-7.
Luke Baggett had three touchdown passes and ran for one, and the defense stymied the prolific Cougars. Players hailed their classy coaches – Terry Logue and Scott Savoie – for being prepared.
And more rewards: with second-seeded Calaveras falling to No. 7 Ripon 28-13, Bear River will host a playoff game it never saw coming. The Bruins had to beat Center in overtime in Week 10 just to secure a playoff spot.
“We all just have a great amount of respect for each other and our coaches,” Baggett said. “We are all a true family and we play for each other we have a very special bond. We all give it 100 percent every play.”
▪ Colfax made its 300-mile round trip to Orestimba one to remember in D-V.
The fifth-seeded Falcons upset the No. 4 Warriors 43-20 as Mason Ahrens rushed for 279 yards and three touchdowns, and Rylan Heimann tossed four touchdowns for coach Tony Martello’s 19th playoff team.
Orestimba was 10-0 entering the game.
Over and out – Tenth-seeded Franklin lost 45-20 at No. 7 Gregori of Modesto (11-0) in D-I play, ending coach Mike Johnson’s tenure with the Wildcats. He is bowing into prep football retirement but may venture into regional college coaching.
Players say he will be missed.
“Coach Johnson is very important to our school,” linebacker John Montgomery said. “He played a big role in the person and player I’ve become. Everyone faces hardships in life, and our team has been lucky to have Coach Johnson by our side through any hardships we’ve faced, football season or not. We feel very lucky to call him Coach.”