Tulare Western isn’t the biggest football team, or the fastest, or the flashiest.
But, as senior Talven Juarez explains it, they make up for it with a secret weapon.
“A lot of heart,” Juarez said.
That collective heart was on display Friday as the Mustangs won their fourth straight game, a 28-13 pounding of Porterville at Bob Mathias Stadium.
It was a display of gritty defense, as the Mustangs held the Panthers about 38 points below their season average. Isaac Cardenas, Javier Ceja and Casey Bernardo each had interceptions for the Mustangs (5-2, 2-0). The Panthers (5-2, 0-2) entered the game averaging 350 yards rushing per game.
The Mustangs held the Panthers to 89 rushing yards Friday.
“All 11 men are doing their job on the field,” Ceja said. “Everyone’s pursuing the ball.”
Tulare Western also showed fireworks on offense — especially on short passes with long runs tacked on.
Ceja got the theme of the night going early, catching a 5-yard pass in the first quarter, dancing around defenders and continuing another 25 yards into the end zone.
In the second quarter, Ceja practically mirrored that play on another short pass from Kobe Portillo. That placed Tulare Western at the goal line, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by Juan Flores.
The Mustangs led 14-0 at halftime.
And the fireworks would continue in the third quarter.
Noah Salazar took another short, quick pass across the middle from Portillo, made a few defenders miss and jetted into the end zone for a 47-yard score.
Tulare Western was already in clock-killing mode when Porterville netted its two scores of the night, one each in the third and fourth quarters.
The Mustangs would add a 1-yard touchdown run by Corey Juarez to seal the deal.
The win has the Mustangs undefeated atop the East Yosemite League — a major shift in atmosphere from last year’s 0-10 season.
The resurgence isn’t just happening under Friday night lights, Ceja said.
“It all starts at practice. Every day is a better practice than the last,” Ceja said. “We’ve all bought in, and we all believe that we can go far.”
Tulare Western’s win now incites the entire community to clear its calendars next Friday. That’s when the Mustangs face the undefeated Mission Oak Hawks from across town. This week was the third time in Tulare history that all three varsity teams won in the same week (and they’ve all happened this season).
Flores led Tulare Western’s rushing attack with 97 yards on 21 carries. Portillo threw 12-of-21 for 187 yards. Ceja led Mustang receivers with 86 yards on four catches; he also added 54 yards rushing.
Now that the Mustangs are playoff eligible (according to the school district’s mandate of being over .500), the team has no intent on slowing down.
“We’re very high tempo,” Juarez said. “And we keep that motor going.”