Alhambra’s varsity football team left the field at Bishop O’Dowd exactly 364 days after their playoff loss last year with the same result, a second-round loss.
That game however could not have been more different than the gritty 17-14 loss the Bulldogs suffered at the hands of the Dragons on blustery Saturday afternoon in Oakland.
And moreover, this second straight appearance in the North Coast Section playoffs marks the first time Alhambra has made consecutive cameos in the playoffs since Coach Alan Hern took over the program in 2010.
“The program is on the rise, and they (the seniors) were a part of that,” Hern said after the game, highlighting the time and work the players put in.
For their part, Bishop O’Dowd made the adjustments they needed to make to come out on top. Their first three drives on offense were unimpressive, and they could only muster three yards. But thanks to a 32-yard punt return by sophomore Jevon Holland, they had the ball inside the Bulldog 5-yard line, and were able to come away with an all too crucial field goal from put through by Sean Senn.
On the previous drive Hern elected to try a fake punt, and while he was bailed out on an interception by senior safety Damon Blalock, the Bulldogs were pinned deep.
Every time Nicki Rucki came onto the field to punt, she was doing so in the shadow of her own end zone.
Alhambra answered back on a drive that took nearly six minutes off the clock and spanned 65 yards. The drive was capped off by Jonathan McCart’s 1-yard touchdown. Matt Beck had scored from 39 yards out earlier in the drive, but his touchdown run was brought back due to a personal foul penalty that happened behind the play.
In a game that featured very little firepower in the passing game, it was the running backs and the offensive lineman that shone on Saturday. And none shone brighter than the freshman sensation Austin Jones. The first-year back piled up the yards and added to his already stellar season in which he has run for more than 1,000 yards.
Alhambra got a heavy dose of Jones early on when O’Dowd Head Coach Napoleon Kauffman elected to start pocket-passer Joe Deluca under center over running threat Nick Allen.
Allen entered the game late on, however it was unclear as to whether Deluca was withdrawn due to performance or the slight limp he was wearing.
At the half, Alhambra had only complied 58 yards on offense, and were clearly determined to take it up a notch.
They got a big take away on defense when senior Josh Ramirez picked off Allen’s pass in the end zone to set Alhambra up with a shot at the lead.
“Our defense played great,” said Hern. “They gave us a chance to get the win.”
Neither team could convert on third quarter takeaways, so that the quarter ended the same way the half did, at 10-7 in favor of O’Dowd.
Quarterback Zach Elliott scored after Alhambra took advantage of a mental mistake by the Dragons’ special teams unit that was flagged for fair catch interference. It took only four plays to go 32 yards, and Alhambra was ahead.
On the ensuing defensive series, Jeremy Abraham made a big sack and the momentum started to shift, but the Alhambra offense continued to sputter and fade.
“Their corners were physical and we had trouble getting off our coverage, and that limited our outside receivers,” Hern said. The Bulldogs missed senior captain Josh Abraham, which affected the match ups the Bulldogs liked going into the game.
Allen scored from nine yards out, so that, with 3:25 left, Alhambra had one last shot.
That shot went so poorly there was no way for Alhambra to recover. Elliott was nearly picked off on his first pass attempt, and the Bulldogs were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on the play after that. Another incomplete pass set up fourth down, where Elliott was sacked, and Alhambra’s season was put to rest.
The Bulldogs finished the season at 7-5 overall.