Village News Reporter
The bright side for Fallbrook High School’s football team is that the mental mistakes which ended the Warriors’ four-game winning streak occurred in a non-league game.
Brawley High School traveled to Fallbrook for the Sept. 23 contest and returned home with a 21-17 victory. The Wildcats, who have yet to play an Imperial Valley League game, improved their record to 3-2. Fallbrook has a Sept. 30 bye and will take a 4-2 overall mark including a 1-0 Valley League record into the Warriors’ Oct. 7 league game at Valley Center.
“We made a lot of mental mistakes in the first half that got us behind,” said Fallbrook coach Ross Johnson. “You can’t play just one half of football against a good team like Brawley and expect to win.”
The first half included a 47-yard pass completion which was fumbled nine yards away from the end zone Brawley was defending. The fumble was recovered by the Wildcats. The rules require that at least seven players be on the line of scrimmage at the snap, and the illegal procedure against Fallbrook nullified a 36-yard touchdown pass.
The pass nullified by the penalty does not count in the statistics of Fallbrook quarterback Evan Thomas, who officially had seven completions for 95 yards in 20 attempts. “His stat line is actually very deceiving,” Johnson said. “Evan had a really good game.”
An incomplete pass which does not result in an intentional grounding penalty is better than a sack which does not count as a passing attempt. “I thought that he made great decisions all night,” Johnson said of Thomas.
Thomas did not throw an interception and did not fumble himself. “He took care of the ball,” Johnson said.
The fumble after the catch was Fallbrook’s only turnover. The Warriors had three takeaways. Trent Pack and George Aguilar each intercepted a Brawley pass. Kaleb Collings forced a Wildcats fumble which was recovered by Johan Saliba.
“The defense played well. A few mistakes here and there for sure,” Johnson said.
Prior to the Sept. 23 game, Fallbrook had allowed five touchdowns with three being given up on turnovers or by special teams. The Warriors’ defense had allowed two touchdowns, and only one of those was by the first-string defense. Brawley reached the end zone three times against Fallbrook’s primary defensive players.
“Brawley put together some good scoring drives,” Johnson said.
Fallbrook took a 3-0 lead on a 39-yard field goal by Josh Gomez approximately four minutes into the game. The Wildcats countered with the first of two rushing touchdowns by Tanner Carranza, and the drive included a fourth-down conversion. The kick for the point after made the score 7-3 with approximately three minutes remaining in the first quarter.
The low point for Fallbrook’s defense occurred with about three minutes left in the second period. A coverage mistake allowed Ethan Gutierrez to throw a 58-yard touchdown pass to Donnell Mehkye Washington; the play accounted for more than half of the Wildcats’ 114 passing yards throughout the game. The kick for the extra point was successful.
Fallbrook narrowed the 14-3 halftime deficit to 14-10 with a touchdown run late in the third quarter and took a 17-14 lead on a rushing touchdown midway in the fourth quarter. Chris Bausch and Alan Leon had Fallbrook’s two rushing scores.
The kickoff gave the Wildcats possession, and Brawley scored on that drive. “I’ve got to give Brawley a lot of credit for just really executing a good offensive drive on that last series,” Johnson said.
Johnson noted that the Fallbrook defense played exceptionally during the Warriors’ previous five games and fell short of that level but not of reasonable expectations. “Not a poor effort,” he said. “No major mistakes.”
The Warriors received the ball with just over two minutes left on the clock, but they were unable to obtain a first down. The Wildcats garnered one first down before running out the clock.
“Almost pulled it out at the end,” Johnson said.
“Brawley’s a very good opponent,” Johnson said. “It’s a good team that just played a little bit better than we did.”
The four-game winning streak which ended was the first for Fallbrook since 2015 with one of that year’s four consecutive victories being in the CIF playoffs. The last Warriors team to win four regular-season games in a row was the 2000 CIF Division I champions, who concluded the regular season with six consecutive wins prior to three playoff victories.