West Raiders win 2nd straight crown in lightweight division
Tears made their ways down the cheeks of Xavier Renteria as he stood in the end zone where the rest of his teammates gathered to celebrate Wednesday night.
After two straight 10-0 seasons culminated in Mesa County Junior Football Lightweight Division Super Bowl championships for the West Raiders, this game had a finality that hit home.
“This is my last year with my team, my last year before high school,” said Renteria, an eighth-grader on a team made up of seventh- and eighth-graders under 130 pounds.
The Raiders’ eighth-graders exited on the best possible note, turning back a spirited Redlands Chargers team 24-6.
These weren’t the same Chargers whom the Raiders routed 30-0 earlier in the year, and they might have made the Raiders work a even harder for the title if not for a couple of costly turnovers.
On the first possession of the game, the Chargers marched 47 yards in nine plays to the Raiders’ 25-yard line, but a fumble ended the drive. The Chargers then forced the Raiders to punt on their first possession, but the punt hit a Charger, and the Raiders recovered to take possession at the Redlands 37.
Chargers head coach Lee Carlson said those turnovers hurt, but not nearly as much as two injuries did.
On the last play of the first quarter, Redlands quarterback Kyle Fineron ran for seven yards, but he didn’t leave the field under his own power. A knee injury ended his game, and the Chargers weren’t the same team thereafter.
Tyler Boggs took over at quarterback and eventually left the game with a concussion.
The Raiders, meanwhile, were methodical on offense. They drove 50 yards in 12 plays and took nearly 13 minutes off the clock — quarters are 20 minutes with a running clock — to put the first points on the board. Giangelo Castaneda ran three yards over left tackle for the touchdown with about 2 minutes, 20 seconds remaining in the half.
It was more of the same when West drove 60 yards in 12 plays to score with 17:15 left in the fourth quarter. Nick Arcieri delivered the touchdown on a fourth-and-goal run from the 2, taking a toss to the right side and getting around the corner. After four straight penalties moved the ball back and forth, Jake Chaffetz finally made the two-point kick for a 16-0 lead.
The Chargers responded with their touchdown with 1:46 remaining as linebacker-turned-emergency-quarterback Jason Coffey threw a five-yard TD pass to Richy Carrasco.
The Raiders recovered the ensuing onside kick, and all they needed was a first down to run out the clock. But when Renteria swept left on a third-down run, he got the corner and raced down the sideline for a 47-yard touchdown to cap the scoring.
Raiders head coach Justin Webber spoke highly of his players’ persistence, hitting hard play after play to finally get the upper hand in the trenches. They had to, because the Chargers made them.
“They got better since the last time we played them,” Webber said of Redlands. “I thought their offensive line beat our defensive line in the first half.”
But Webber said his team made adjustments on the line for the second half and went deeper into its playbook than normal, and the Raiders looked more like the team he’s used to seeing.