Joe Davidson

Mira Loma football slumber is over, snapping 31-game skid

Retired coach Gerry Kundert, who led Mira Loma in its glory years in the 1970s, still roots for the Matadors.
Retired coach Gerry Kundert, who led Mira Loma in its glory years in the 1970s, still roots for the Matadors. Sacramento Bee file

Toby Thurman woke up refreshed on Saturday morning, a man reborn, and he sat bolt upright and asked himself if it was real.

Did Mira Loma High School finally win a football game?

It did, and Thurman jumped out of bed, ready to attack a new day. The third-year Matadors coach was hoarse from a lot of hollering the night before. A 31-game losing streak crumbled as Mira Loma raced past Encina 40-0 on Friday night at El Camino.

The burden of defeat has been lifted. The Matadors are no longer labeled as losers but rather as players ready to embrace their new feel-good fortune, eager for more, because the only good thing about losing streaks is ending them.

“Got up early, and it was one of those really special mornings,” Thurman said. “My faith in God is deep, and we pray before games to keep us safe, and the kids were so excited to win. I’m so proud of them. We had seniors who were in tears, just bawling. The young freshmen here, we give them hope for the future in football. And the fans? Wow.”

The fans – students, faculty, parents – rushed the field after Mira Loma earned its first victory since the end of the 2012 season and then did a victory lap. Added Thurman, “When you lose like we had been, you don’t get many fans. No one wants to see a loser. We’re not losers any more.”

Dillon Hughes hit Porschauy Caldwell and Dorin Matveev for touchdown passes, and Isaiah Mull and Raphael Shakano each returned interceptions for touchdowns to key the Matadors.

Mira Loma opened in 1960 and emerged as a football power in short order under famed coaches Don Brown and Gerry Kundert, fuming throwback sorts who ushered in the wing-T era to this region. The Matadors won championships and enjoyed 28-game winning streaks in the ’60s and ’70s, and they remained strong into the early ’80s. Brown and Kundert, now in their 80s, root for Mira Loma success, with Kundert saying last year, “They just need a coach who cares and puts the time in, and it might be (Thurman).”

The winds of change were not kind to Mira Loma in football as dwindling school enrollment and changing demographics affected the program. Mira Loma has remained strong academically, particularly with the International Baccalaureate program and Science Bowl teams.

The Matadors have produced just three winning seasons since 1984. In recent seasons, victories were measured by eligibility success, first downs and touchdowns. Mira Loma still battles low numbers and has just 20 players on the roster now. But winning may up those numbers as impressionable students tend to gravitate to a good thing.

Thurman is beloved by players and staff. He goes by “Pastor” because of his passionate team speeches and because his parents – Gwen and Charles Thurman – were longtime pastors in Fairfield churches. Thurman has long preached to players not to quit, to not cut corners in class, the weight room or the practice field.

“It starts when you wake up,” Thurman said. “We do weight training at 6:30 in the morning, and being a good student means being on time to class, good behavior. In football, you can let it all hang out and have fun.”

A closer look at the area’s longest losing skids:

▪ 36; McClatchy, ending in 2005: The Lions practiced using a victory formation, for fun, and then used it amid cheers and tears.

▪ 34; Colfax, ending in 1975: Coach Bob Claycamp said he was “young, dumb and naive” in those days – and much smarter when he was defensive coordinator for Colfax’s 1986 section championship team.

▪ 32; Natomas, ending in 2014: Players, coaches and administrators embraced as if they had won the Lotto, and then celebrated more when making the playoffs.

▪ 30; Rio Linda, ending in 1983: Coach Don Dillon’s first task was changing the culture, including halting the players’ midweek, after-school pheasant hunting trips.

▪ 28; Sacramento, ending in 1985: Coach Ron Reclusado received standing ovations in class, and his coaching brother Pete fielded numerous calls “from old girlfriends.”

▪ 28; Kennedy, ending in 2013: Coach Matt Costa said he felt refreshed after “waking from a coma.” He led Kennedy to an 8-3 mark last season.

▪ 28; Encina, ending in 1990: The school switched mascots from Apaches to Bulldogs, anything in an effort to change the image and karma.

▪ 28; Encina, ending in 2012: The coaches were so delighted to win, they answered the dare from players to dance in the locker room.

▪ 26; Galt, ending in 2002: It was so grim for the Warriors that the leading rusher at midseason was the punter, on three busted plays and a fake.

▪ 22; Bear River, ending in 1988: Coach Terry Logue, still with the program, said players were afraid to tackle. The Bruins haven’t had a losing season since.