Zach Timm #34 is surrounded by teammates after accepting the CIF championship plaque in last Friday's 13-10 win
over San Joaquin Memorial. It is the 11th section title for Tehachapi in school history. Photo by Tom Shea, The Tehachapi News.

Heart of A Champion
Tehachapi Captures 11th Section Championship

Posted on December 13, 2010, by Tom Shea, The Tehachapi News

When the Warriors were awarded a sixth seed for the CIF playoffs four weeks ago, you just had a feeling that it might be a good omen for Mountain Football.

In 2007, Tehachapi Basketball won the CIF championship as a sixth seed. In 2008, Mountain Football won the CIF championship as a sixth seed.

And now, the Warriors have turned their sixth seed into glory once more, winning an improbable CIF Central Section Division II championship over San Joaquin Memorial, 13-10 last Friday night.

"This just proves that no one can underestimate Mountain Football," said lineman Niko Taliulu. "We had to go on the road, we were the underdog through the whole (playoffs) and we pulled through."

Tehachapi’s win did not come easy, with plenty of in-game drama fitting for a title ambiance.

The visiting Warriors got up early on San Joaquin Memorial right from the opening kickoff, with Michael Lowder taking a return 72 yards to give Mountain Football early momentum at the Panther 21 yard line.

Two plays later, Marcus Curiel punched in the first score of the night on a 23-yard touchdown run to put the Warriors up, 7-0. Curiel finished with 85 yards on 12 carries.

“We were just pumped for this game and I just wanted us to get a good start on special teams,” said Lowder. “It was great blocking up front and I just ran as hard and fast as I could.”

For the majority of the rest of the game it was a battle of field position and defense, with Tehachapi recording three punts, a punt block, an interception and three big turnover on downs deep in the redzone to keep the Panthers off the scoreboard through three quarters of play.

Troy Mathews, Adam Bullard, Zach Timm and Niko Taliulu had big tackles to thwart potential touchdown runs on three goal line stands.

"We just brought everybody and we were fired up, we were so fired up," added Taliulu. "We were able to get (in the backfield), get turnovers and we were able to stop them."

Cory Lange also had a key pass tip on fourth and goal at the two yard line at the start of the third quarter to keep the Warriors lead in tact.

"We made an adjustment at halftime to (the passing) formation and I just stuck my hand out and was able to knock it down," said Lange.

In the final period, San Joaquin Memorial (10-4) was able to make their own adjustments to score 10 unanswered points and take the lead, 10-7.

Then, with their backs against the wall at their own three-yard line, Tehachapi set up a final drive opportunity with less than six minutes remaining for a chance to capture glory.

In the clutch, senior runningback Phil Rhodes came through, playing through the pain of a floating rib injury suffered two weeks ago against Sunnyside and overcoming a fever and strep throat just this past week.

Through heart and grit, Rhodes got the crowd into a frenzy with a 44-yard completion in double coverage on a perfectly thrown pass from quarterback Levi Garrett.

"It was a great throw by Levi. He put it where just I could get it, a great throw," said Rhodes. "We played a great team (last Friday). It was anyone's game and we're just so happy we could bring this one home."

Tehachapi (13-1) then orchestrated five more running plays to eat up the game clock, putting the ball at the San Joaquin Memorial four-yard line with 57 seconds remaining.

Rhodes then got the call again, recording his final carry as a Warrior with an emphatic four yard run for the winning score, putting Tehachapi up 13-10 with 51 seconds to go. Rhodes finished the evening with 76 yards on 14 attempts.

"I just followed my lead block, put my shoulder down and went for it," said Rhodes. "Our whole team just wanted this win and we did everything we could to get it."

Tehachapi's defense sealed the win in the final seconds, with Michael Lowder intercepting a pass on fourth and 15 on the ensuing Panther's drive. Lowder also had six tackles in the game, while Ray Cross, Cameron King, Troy Mathews, Bullard, Lara, and Wyatt Vance had five tackles apiece to seal the win.

"The only thing we were saying was to just have to have heart," said Taliulu. "We just pushed it and we had great heart on that drive and in the game."

With the win, Tehachapi captures their 11th title in school history and third CIF championship in the last four years.

"It was the best feeling in the world to win this game. I don't know how to describe it," added Lange.

Tehachapi's Phil Rhodes is mobbed by reporters following the CIF Division II championship win. Rhodes was a key part
of the Warriors final drive of the night, catching a pass for 44 yards and scoring a four-yard winning touchdown with
less than a minute remaining in the game. Photo by Tom Shea, The Tehachapi News.

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