When it seemed over for Dinuba, it wasn’t. When the momentum seemed to sway away from Kingsburg, it didn’t.
The Emperors threatened a late rally in what’s transformed into a makeshift championship game for the Central Sequoia League crown the past few seasons.
But a key fourth-down stand on defense and a Seth Brooks touchdown run pushed the Vikings to a 35-27 win at home — where they seldom lose.
“I knew Dinuba could score, and they can score fast,” said Vikings coach Dave Steele, whose team led 21-0 at the half. “We knew we were going to be in a dogfight.
“Our guys did what they had to do and they played with desire. They played with heart. That’s what I’ve been preaching to them all week.”
Vikings (6-1, 1-0 CSL) quarterback Brandon Steele completed 15 of 33 passes for 253 yards and had 50 rushing yards and a score on 13 carries.
Brooks carried 23 times for 114 yards and had three rushing touchdowns — none more important than his 44-yard scamper with 2:35 left to keep the Dinuba’s comeback (it trailed 28-20 before the run) at bay.
The first half gave Kingsburg the cushion it needed. The Emperors had opportunities to score in the first half — they faced a fourth-and-2 at the Kingsburg 21 and a fourth-and-5 on the 46, but both ended in failed conversions.
“We didn’t show up in the first half,” Dinuba coach Kevin Scharton said. “We couldn’t execute on offense. Defensively, we couldn’t get any stops. They kept making third-down conversions against us.”
Dinuba threatened, though, in the second half. The Emperors scored on their first drive of the third quarter — three Michael Wright runs combining for 66 yards — and again on the following drive on a 57-yard screen pass from Oregon State verbal commit Marcus McMaryion to Wright.
Wright ran 17 times for 109 yards and had three receptions for 63 yards, leading the Emperors in both categories. McMaryion completed 10 of 18 passes for 179 yards, two scores and an interception.
McMaryion connected with Mario Rodriguez for a 21-yard score that cut down Kingsburg’s lead 28-20 with 3:31.
The Emperors faced third-and-goal at the 7 in their previous drive, but a high snap prompted an intentional grounding call on the Emporers, who were stopped on fourth down.
Xavier Jones returned a kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown with 2:25 left to make the score 35-27. It was too late.
“We came back strong in the second half, but it was too late,” McMaryion said. “Against a good team like this, you have to come out strong and match their intensity, especially at home. They’re so good at winning here … These games always come down to the wire.”