The Tulare Western Mustangs are right in the middle of the East Yosemite League title picture.
And despite not wanting to look past their next opponent, the Mustangs will play for at least a share of the East Yosemite League championship when they square off against Tulare Union on Nov. 6.
The Mustangs put themselves in position for their first EYL championship since 2004 with a 40-24 win over the Mission Oak Hawks Friday night at Bob Mathias Stadium.
“There is a lot of pride with our kids in winning a city championship,” Tulare Western coach Ryan Rocha said, before adding, “Monache is our next opponent and it’s all in perspective.”
Tulare Western (5-3, 3-0) and Mission Oak (3-5, 1-2) had high stakes invested in Friday’s pivotal EYL meeting.
The Mustangs were attempting to advance to 3-0 in league play, eying Tulare Union for a potential EYL-deciding Bell Game at the end of the season.
The Hawks needed a win to continue controlling their own fate in EYL, and also needing two wins over their final three games to qualify for the Central Section Division III playoffs.
The teams had split their two games over the last two years, with both games decided by a touchdown. The estimated 4,600 in attendance at Bob Mathias Stadium were in store for nothing less than a close game.
It was all that and more.
The Hawks led 24-21 late in the third quarter before Tulare Western scored 19 unanswered to close out the game.
The Mustangs were led by their potent rushing game, compiling 346 yards on the ground. The majority of those yards came courtesy of junior quarterback Andre Aguilar, a transfer from Mission Oak, who had 186 yards rushing on 18 attempts.
Aguilar accounted for four touchdowns — two rushing, two passing.
The Mustangs started off the scoring with a 76-yard drive that ended in a 12-yard touchdown run by Mason Bernardo. The Mustangs’ next possession ended when Mission Oak’s Keshon Butler blocked a 37-yard field-goal attempt, recovered by the Hawks at their 7-yard line. The Hawks were ultimately forced to punt, but a roughing-the-kicker penalty extended their drive, and Trey McJunkin later scored on a one-yard run.
McJunkin’s run was almost immediately answered by Tulare Western, with Aguilar scrambling for a 55 yard touchdown. The Hawks managed to cut the lead to 14-13 at the half.
After exchanging touchdowns on their opening second half drives, Jaden Enriquez intercepted Aguilar and returned it to the Mustangs’ eight-yard line, setting up a 29-yard field goal by Nick Orozco to give the Hawks their only lead of the game at 24-21.
The Mustangs scored a touchdown on their next drive, then recovered a fumble as the Hawks were threatening to score. The Mustangs scored a touchdown on that ensuing drive to make it 34-24, then recovered another fumble on Mission Oak’s next possession to set up their final score.
Besides Aguilar’s stellar performance, Mason Bernardo had 92 yards rushing on 17 carries while David Alcantar tacked on another 68 yards on the ground.
McJunkin led the Hawks with 109 yards rushing to go with his 184 yards passing. Jeffrey de Macabalin had 73 yards rushing and Michael Villa had five receptions for 114 yards.
“We played well offensively and we did some things,” Mission Oak coach Mark Gambini said. “We just got to go prepare every week, and we need some balls to bounce our way.”
The Mustangs will travel to Porterville to take on Monache next week, hoping to enter the Bell Game at 4-0 in league play.
The Hawks no longer control their EYL fate, but can still make the playoffs by winning their final two games. They’ll take on Tulare Union next Friday at Bob Mathias Stadium before closing the season on the road against Delano.
TW — Mason Bernardo 12 run (Cameron Horsting kick), 4:41
MO — Trey McJunkin 1 run (kick failed), 4:19
TW — Andre Aguilar 55 run (Horsting kick), 3:44
MO — Michael Villa 4 pass from McJukin (Nick Orozco kick), 0:45
TW — Josh Portillo 36 pass from Aguilar (Horsting kick), 10:27
MO — Jeffrey de Macabalin 3 run (Jaden Enriquez pass from McJunkin), 9:13
MO — Orozco 29 FG, 7:06
TW — Jesse Macias 12 pass from Aguilar (Horsting kick), 4:31
TW — David Alcantar 4 run (kick failed), 8:59
TW — Aguilar 2 run (pass failed), 6:39
RUSHING — Tulare Western: Andre Aguilar 18-186, David Alcantar 7-68, Mason Bernardo 17-92. Mission Oak: Jeffrey de Macabalin 18-73, Keon Jefferson 3-0, Trey McJunkin 14-109, Jaden Enriquez 1-2.
PASSING — Tulare Western: Aguilar 7-15-99 1. Mission Oak: McJunkin 15-30-0 184.
RECEIVING — Tulare Western: Josh Portillo 3-63, Jesse Macias 2-19, Caleb Salazar 1-12, Alcantar 1-5. Mission Oak: Michael Villa 5-114, Keshon Butler 2-19, de Macabalin 5-42, Enriquez 2-3, Daniel Ganiron 1-6.
Records: Tulare Western 5-3, 3-0. Mission Oak 3-5, 1-2.