A terrific defensive display — including five fourth down stops — saw the Kimball Jaguars bring home an enormous California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Sac Joaquin Section Division 4 playoff win against the Lincoln Fighting Zebras and advance to the section semifinals.
The Jags’ D meant business from the word go. They were instrumental in the 26-19 win at Don Nicholson Stadium. Their inspired performance really set the tone for the whole team to follow.
Marshaled by defensive coordinator Adrian Ramos, the Jags suffocated their visitors. They completely neutralized their highly regarded run game and broke up pass attempts in dangerous areas. They enabled the offense to take care of business.
“I’m really proud of those guys (Ramos and coach Paul Gates) being on my staff,” head coach Derek Graves said of his team’s defensive display. “Being able to have those guys coach the team up on defense on this championship run, they do a heck of a job.”
The Jags’ weapons needed a minute to oil up. After a scoreless first quarter, they got to work and put the first score on the board through a monster 57-yard carry from senior back Sebastian Tate.
Graves and his staff called a ton of passing plays to start — with much success — with senior quarterback Jayden McKey completing eight of his first 10 attempts. However, they dented Lincoln’s armor with a patented run.
Tate got the hand off in the backfield and took advantage of the first gap created by his O-line. He broke a tackle with a lightning quick first step before juking another visitors’ defender to send himself into open field. That was the start of a good night’s work for Tate. He finished the game with 111 yards on 14 carries.
Up six-zip, the Jags’ picked up right where they left off defensively and allowed McKey and co. to get another score on the board in no time. The hosts shut out the Fighting Zebras at half-time and completed four straight fourth down stops.
However, taking advantage of the defense was imperative down the other end and Kimball did just that after the fourth when McKey found star senior receiver Travis Marieiro in the end zone with a 16-yard pass in single coverage. Marieiro hauled the ball in on a leap after leaving his defender floored with dazzling footwork.
The scoring play was preceded by a 54-yard bomb from McKey to junior receiver Darius Doyle down the middle.
Doyle was crucial for the Jags all night on both sides of the ball. The visitors could not deal with his speed and route running on one end and he was wise to break up a number of passing plays down the other. He finished the game with 10 receptions for 145 yards.
After the game, Doyle revealed that these types of games are what he and his teammates have been waiting for.
“It’s the same thing as last year,” he said. “We got here, we won in the first round and now we want to go to the sections and win the championship.”
Doyle also paid kudos to the defense — which he is a big part of. He said that the stops gave the offense a huge boost. That resulted in the Jags being in dreamland at the interval. The salivating prospect of a matchup with the No. 1 seeded Vanden Vikings was edging ever closer.
However, the hosts would still have to withstand a number of ambitious approaches from their visitors before that could become a reality. Befitting their name, the Fighting Zebras battled admirably in the second half. They made things scrappy. They made the Jags earn the victory.
Kimball's defense got caught out for the first time in the third quarter when Lincoln executed a cute play call which saw two receivers, Isaac Gomez and Hayden Dotson, combine on a passing play.
Dotson had a monster second half for the visitors. He was their most reliable outlet in the air with star running back Ryan Henning completely shackled by the Jags’ defense. Dotson picked up a number of huge first downs for the Fighting Zebras and was rewarded for his efforts by Gomez to make it 12-6 Kimball.
With the hosts looking a little disjointed and somewhat up against it, Graves’ team did not turn down the opportunity to respond to some adversity. And they did so in style.
After weathering a Lincoln storm that lasted over 10 third quarter minutes, the Jags produced a stunning drive to score their third touchdown of the night. It came at a point when they needed it badly in order to stop the bleed.
“Those guys played hard and our guys responded well,” Graves said. “They actually responded great. I’m proud of my team. They played with effort like we have been for 11 games straight and we’re going to continue to do that.”
With two interceptions thrown by that point, McKey recomposed himself in the pocket and once again started slicing and dicing the visitors defense.
The play of the drive was a beautiful 36-yard lob to Marieiro — in single coverage again — to put the Jags on Lincoln’s four yard line. Marieiro celebrated his sixth and final reception of the night by rocking an imaginary baby much to the crowd’s delight.
The following play was punched in by junior back Jaden Ramirez to restore the hosts’ cushion. McKey completed 19 of 28 pass attempts for 284 yards against Lincoln. His receivers had themselves a night on the routes.
Marieiro caught six passes for 89 yards and chipped in with seven tackles on defense to cap off an outstanding display blemished by an injury scare in the fourth quarter.
The senior was hit hard in what looked like a helmet to helmet tackle and appeared to be out for a moment before leaving the field on his own powers.
Emotions understandably ran high after that one. The safety of the players should always be of the utmost importance and the fact that no flags were thrown on the play will raise questions.
However, Graves and his staff did what they needed to do in order to get the players to lock back in and the Jags were able to deliver the dagger with 5:17 left on the clock.
With Marieiro and Tate both banged up on the sidelines, McKey looked to junior quarterback Dalton Anderson to put the game on ice with a 32-yard touchdown strike. Anderson ran an outstanding route and was hit perfectly in stride and secured the ball to make it 26-12.
Addressing the situation postgame, Graves said: “Football is real life. My guys know that. Like I said from the beginning, they’re going to be great men one day. That was just a real life situation. Something happened at your job, or at home, and we lost a family member and we responded. We didn’t give up. We kept pushing for them.”
That score all but ended the game. The No. 4 seeded Jags could almost taste a trip to Fairfield next week where they will look to continue chasing their championship dreams.
But, the champagne could really be popped when senior defensive back Erik Nino picked off Lincoln quarterback Thomas Mukai with an excellent coverage and snatch with just over a minute left in the game.
The visitors scored a touchdown either side of Anderson’s reception to keep things interesting right down to the wire. They had the ball in their hands to tie or go for the win. However, the Jags’ defense would not let their team lose this one. In very fitting fashion, it was a defensive play that sent the hosts into the final four.
Junior linebacker Jacob Salazar led all Jags in tackles with eight. Junior safety Bodie Lychak had five. Senior linebacker Zachary Macmartin had six and junior defensive end Christian Taylor contributed with seven tackles and a sack.
“It feels good having a good defense and coming out on the field knowing that if we don’t score, they can get a stop and let us try again,” McKey said. “This gives our team huge confidence. This was a great win over a great team and I think we have a pretty good shot at going all the way.”
Three straight wins to end the regular season and now a fourth on the bounce to start the postseason. Graves’ Jags’ are peaking at just the right time and are playing total football on both sides of the ball to make the victories even sweeter.
Now, a tough road game awaits. The Jags have felt good away from home all season long. That will have prepared them for this moment. At their healthy best, they can beat anyone. They know that. Their fiery championship aspirations have them believing that even more now.
However, the motto continues to be to win out. To go 1-0 every week. Graves refuses to look too far ahead. “We’re just excited to have a chance,” he said. A chance to reach a section championship game in his first season in charge.