The banner hung from a house just outside the entrance to Hughson High's stadium: “The strength of the husky comes from the pack."
Through the rain and mud, the Huskies drew on the combined strength of their team, their coaches, and their community to win the CIF State Division 5-AA championship and subdue the Muir Mustangs of Pasadena, 9-6. Their last state championship was earned in 1997 and this was their first State Bowl game appearance.
Head coach Shun King was immensely proud of his team at the end of the night.
“The odds were against us all year and the adversity these boys showed throughout the season, throughout the playoffs, this is the only way for these seniors to go out,” he stated. “There’s no tomorrow. They left it all out here on their home field in the mud. I love these boys, this will never be forgotten.”
Earlier in the week, King predicted that “rain or shine, we’re going to pack the stands,” and he was right. Despite the pouring rain and wind, the bleachers were standing-room only with fans decked out in raincoats and ponchos to cheer on their team.
Senior Liam Bridgford was excited about the weather.
“Obviously, it was fun,” he said, "and them being from Pasadena, they never go through this weather so we knew we could use it to our advantage, and we did.”
It was an intense game despite the low score and the Huskies made a statement early on. After a long carry by David Delgado ended at the 1-yard line, Bridgford muscled his way into the endzone for Hughson’s lone touchdown of the game. Jacob Yarbrough followed up with a successful kick for the extra point.
Muir struggled to advance through the mud of Husky Memorial Stadium. After two fumbles, a turnover, and a missed snap, Muir was on fourth down and stuck on their own 9-yard line. They lined up the punt and fumbled again, forcing the Mustangs to make the strategic decision to kick the ball out of bounds and give Hughson the safety with a minute and a half remaining in the first quarter.
“Our defense was stellar,” Bridgford said with pride. “Our defense got that fumbled punt and we got a safety. Our defense was on point.”
Both teams struggled to gain traction in the rain and mud. The second quarter and most of the third were scoreless but marked by a combined six fumbles, five penalties, and three interceptions.
It was after the sixth fumble that the Mustangs regained possession and Immanuel Meachum scored from the 6-yard line. The Mustangs were forced into a two-point conversion attempt after yet another fumble on the snap but were stopped short of the five. With 1:40 left in the third quarter, it was: Hughson 9, Muir 6.
The fourth quarter featured a sack by Delgado and a great run by Malakai Sumter as well as two more fumbles and three more penalties. The third penalty, offsides against Muir, gained Hughson a first down and helped them secure the win.
Quarterback Robert McDaniel, only a sophomore, credited his team’s achievement to their teamwork and bond.
“We knew we always had a chance [to win state] as soon as we started working as a team - We’re one heartbeat,” he said.
King agreed with McDaniel and stated that “one heartbeat” had been their mantra for the season.
“That’s what we preached all season - to have one heartbeat and this team did,” he said. “They are a family, we don’t just preach it, we live it.”
When Hughson assumed victory formation with the clock winding down, fireworks lit the sky and the overjoyed Huskies dove into the mud. But they had respects to pay before they could celebrate with their friends and families.
In the endzone, players gathered around a black circle with the initials KP painted inside. They laid out their helmets and the state championship trophy.
“This was for him!” players yelled. He was Keith Parker, the Husky’s defensive coordinator who passed away in February.
“This whole season was dedicated to him,” proclaimed King.
Samantha Schmidt is a freelance photographer and reporter with FrontRowPreps.com. Her work has also been featured in the Turlock Journal and other Central Valley publications.