DeAngello Torres made his way back into the starting lineup and the El Diamante football looked like a team ready to make a deep postseason run.
Torres, who played sparingly in the Miners’ regular-season Nov. 9 win due to injury, regained his shiftiness in the Central Section Division II quarterfinals, cutting through a hole for a big gain on his first touch of the game and plowing through the end zone twice.
And fullback Alex Schapansky embodied the Miners’ sturdiness on offense, grounding and pounding for chunks of yardage in top-seeded El Diamante’s 42-20 win over No. 9 San Joaquin Memorial on Friday night at Groppetti Automotive Visalia Community Stadium.
It was part of the power run performance — a Miners’ staple under coach Mark Rogers.
Those are good for highlights, yes, but not the hardiness of a team looking to win its first section title since 2008, Rogers said.
“Our defense is a good defense,” he said. “They play really well. They hustle and they make good tackles … I think the defense, if anything, overshadows [our offense].
“They played well tonight.”
On Memorial offensive drives, three ended with interceptions, six of them ended in punts (including three three-and-outs). And probably the most important one, at the time, ended in a key fourth-down stop in the red zone.
The Panthers, behind quarterback Andrew Trahan, operated an offense centered on short, quick screen passes with the occasional option run sprinkled in — they did that successfully in their first-round rout over No. 8 Sunnyside last week.
Didn’t work this week.
The Miners defense, facing fourth-and-1 at its 12-yard line, stopped Damian Manriquez on an option pitch from Trahan, but not enough to turn the ball over.
Didn’t work the next set of downs — when the Panthers faced third-and-1 from the Miners 2. That’s when linebackers Garrian Martin and David Ibarra stuffed Trahan on the keeper for a 2-yard loss on a drive that ended on a failed fourth-down conversion and spearheaded a 97-yard scoring drive that gave El Diamante a 27-6 halftime lead.
“This is it,” said senior linebacker Hunter Bettencourt, anchoring a defense that held an-albeit pass-happy Panthers offense to 7 total rushing yards. “This is what makes a defense great. This is what it comes down to — the grit.”
J.C. Robles completed 7 of 12 passes for 160 yards and had a 35-yard rushing score. Torres, who was in for two plays early in the second half before calling it a night, rushed for 85 yards and two rushing scores on seven carries — and a 56-yard sprint on his first carry of the game.
Schapansky, who scored on a 72-yard run in El Diamante’s first offensive play from scrimmage, led the team with 182 rushing yards and two scores on 14 carries.
The Miners will host No. 5 Sanger — which won its quarterfinal against Redwood, 7-0 — Friday night at home.
The Miners, who for the most part played their corners deep in man coverage, were expecting the Panthers to air it out with quick, short flank passes, Bettencourt said.
Trahan finished with 24 of 46 passing for 299 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.
“I just think we didn’t make plays,” Memorial coach Anthony Goston said. “We didn’t make catches when we had to, we didn’t make tackles when we had to. This game comes down to making plays, and when you don’t get plays and you’re playing against a good team, the result’s not going to be good.”