Though the game was tense at the end, the Spartans beat arch rival Lindsay 28-21 and earned a playoff berth with their third straight win and third win in East Sequoia League (ESL) play. Per Porterville Unified School District rules, teams must have a .500 record or better in league play to qualify for postseason play.
Strathmore was up against a very talented running back in Jeru Starks of Lindsay, but he was overshadowed by Spartan running back Victor Ochoa. The junior carried the ball 13 times for 205 yards and three touchdowns, and that was in just three quarters. Ochoa was benched for the first quarter because he was late to practice on Thursday. Head coach Jeromy Blackwell said that created a “hunger” inside of Ochoa.
“Victor Ochoa came out of nowhere,” he said, “He’s shown that explosion, but he played with a passion.”
Lindsay found itself down 28-7 late in the third quarter after Strathmore running back Joseph Garcia broke a tackle up the middle and scored a 25-yard touchdown. That drive was set up by a 60-yard run by Ochoa. But in the fourth quarter, Starks showed why he’s a special talent when he followed an excellent block from a teammate, cut up field and scored a 10-yard touchdown to pull the Cardinals to within 28-14 with 10:50 left in the game. He finished with 154 rushing yards on 23 carries.
Less than two minutes later, Lindsay’s Ricky Diaz jumped a short receiver route, picked off an Andrew Avalos pass and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown. Lindsay was down 28-21 with 9:23 to play.
After the defense held strong and the Cardinals offense drove down the field, Lindsay had a chance to tie the game with 1:17 left to play. Quarterback RJ Rueda dropped back to pass on fourth down and lobbed a pass to senior wide receiver Issac Flores in the right side of the end zone. Unfortunately, it was too high for the 6-foot-1 wideout, and the Spartans got the ball back on downs. The fact the Cardinals were passing the ball at all was part of Strathmore’s game plan, according to Blackwell.
“I’m proud of our guys for penetrating the gaps and forcing the throw,” he said. “We knew if we could force them to throw we’d have a chance to win.”
Ochoa scored the first of his three touchdowns on a 15-yard run up the middle, a run that involved two broken tackles. He then punched the ball in from one yard out later in the second quarter to give the Spartans a 14-7 lead. That score was set up by a 45-yard catch from Andres Lara.
Lindsay actually scored the first points of the game when Rueda tossed a 17-yard pass to the right corner of the end zone to sophomore Ernie Baustista.
“I feel pretty good, they’re our rivals,” Ochoa said. “We had to take that bell back home.”
Now that Strathmore has earned a postseason berth, Ochoa said there’s nothing stopping the Spartans from winning everything.
“I’m expecting Valley, man.”
Strathmore finished the regular season with a 5-5 record overall and 3-2 in ESL play. The seedings for the CIF Central Section Division V playoff brackets will be released this weekend.
Posted: Friday, November 6, 2015 11:18 pm
By MICHAEL LINGBERG