On Saturday, the Hughson High football team shocked Summerville in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI final, 14-13.
In a fast-paced, low-action game through three quarters, the final stanza turned it into an instant classic. Hughson led 7-0 entering the fourth and were threatening inside the red zone. Senior standout Liam Bridgford punched in a 1-yard touchdown, and the ensuing PAT was good, making it 14-0 with roughly 8 minutes to play.
“If you get the ball at the 40- or 50-yard line, your eyes are more looking for the hole and how the blocks are set up and just trying to make a play; whenever I get into those (low) yardage plays, I just try to put my head down and get in there," Bridgford said.
Bridgford (59 yards on 17 carries; 2 catches for 26 yards) and his backfield companion Alex Villarreal (36 yards on 13 carries, TD) were the true stars for the Huskies offense in the championship clinching effort.
However, the defense was simply unbelievable.
There were questions coming into the contest about how the Huskies defense would be able to stop the Bears' lightning-fast offense. The Huskies, however, answered the call – allowing only one offensive touchdown, and then stopping the 2-point conversion after head coach Sean Leveroos opted to go for the win instead of trying to send the game to overtime.
“It’s the duration of the season and what we’ve been working on,” said Huskies coach Shaun King. “The last time we played them, it was that week it was 110 degrees all week and we couldn’t practice. We feel good about our defense. Our defense is special, too. We were positive with the plan we had.”
The events leading up to, and immediately after, the Bears' only offensive score was nothing short of chaotic.
The game looked all but over after the Huskies defense forced another three-and-out, giving Hughson the ball with just over 4 minutes to play. All the Huskies had to do was make Summerville use its timeouts and hang onto the ball, and the shutout championship effort would be well on its way.
On a third-and-11 from the Bears 30, Huskies receiver Malakai Sumter caught a screen pass well behind the line of scrimmage. In the dogfight that followed, Sumter coughed up the football, which was quickly scooped up by Bears defender Kai Elkins, who ran into the end zone untouched for Summerville’s first points.
Still in control of the lead, and the clock, the Huskies offense went back to work with 3 and a half minutes left to play. The offense immediately went to work, but the drive stalled out at about midfield. On fourth-and-9, the Huskies punted the ball away, setting the stage for a dramatic finish. The odds were against the Bears in every way – Summerville hadn’t scored offensively the whole game, and they had to go 70 yards in 58 seconds, with no timeouts.
Up to that point, Braylon Leveroos had been the Bears' only offensive beacon. The dual-threat quarterback threw for 132 yards, and on 15 carries, ran for another 78. Described as a “dog” by Bridgford, Leveroos turned in a Superman effort when the Bears needed it most. The senior quarterback sliced through the Husky defense, throwing for 64 yards in 45 seconds – the drive punctuated by a 2-yard touchdown toss to his brother, sophomore Bryce Leveroos.
Trying to capitalize on its dominant drive, Summerville opted to go for the win instead of the tie. Leveroos took the snap from the 2-yard line. Using his legs to evade Bridgford and the defense, the Bears quarterback set his feet and fired a shot towards the end zone. The pass was batted down by senior Gavin Stone, and the celebration began.
With 10 seconds still left to play, Summerville went for the onside kick, and miraculously recovered it – putting the Husky celebration on hold. After a designed run for Braylon Leveroos picked up two yards, the Bears brought out the Hail Mary. The pass was knocked incomplete, and for the first time in 22 years, the Hughson Huskies were section champions.
“I was thinking, ‘Why does this team keep doing this to my health?’ ” Coach King said with a laugh. “That’s three weeks in a row – the first playoff game, we won in double overtime. Last week, we felt like we had to go for onside kicks to keep the ball out of their hands. This week, we don’t recover the onside kick. I have to take more blood pressure medicine.
“It feels great. It’s a long time in the making, it’s something you dream about. This is hard – I mean, this is a hard game. There are guys I’ve known that have coached for 30 years and can’t say they’re a champion. This is special, I’m trying to soak this all in, because you’ll never know if you’ll get another opportunity.”
After celebrating the victory with his teammates and the fans, Bridgford soaked it all in, proudly rocking his section champions hat.
“I don’t think I’ll wrap my head around it now, or within the next couple of hours,” said the Huskies star. “It’s just crazy to think about that in 21, 22 years, we’re the first team that (won a championship), and to put in the work that we did over the offseason and throughout this season and pull it off, it feels great.”