By Nick Giannandrea
College of the Sequoias' football team ended its most successful season in nearly a decade with a 38-28 loss to Butte on Nov. 23 during the Gridiron Classic in Oroville.
The JC Athletic Bureau state No. 24-ranked Giants, who were making their first bowl appearance since 2010, held a 28-24 lead with 10 minutes remaining in the game before the No. 9 Roadrunners pulled away.
COS finished 6-5, only the fourth time in the past 21 seasons the Giants have posted a winning record.
"We had our chances to win the game," Giants coach Joe D'Agostino said. "We were right there with 10 minutes to go. We just needed to make a few plays, and didn't, and they did. It's bittersweet and stings because we were right there, but I'm really proud of the kids in the way they competed and played."
After five lead changes, Butte (8-3) went ahead for good 31-28 on Kyle Lindquist's 65-yard touchdown pass to Marshal Brose with 10:13 remaining in the game.
COS - playing without all-Valley Conference running back Davonte Green (Hammond, La.), who was lost early in the third quarter with a strained calf - went three-and-out on its next possession.
The Roadrunners took possession at the Giants' 48-yard line following a short punt, and essentially put the score out of reach by driving 48 yards in nine plays, capped by Johnny Williams' 6-yard touchdown for a 10-point lead with 2:36 to play.
It was COS' third competitive road game against a state Top-10 team this season, following a 44-21 loss at Modesto on Oct. 19 that was a seven-point game at halftime, and a 17-7 loss at Fresno City on Nov. 9.
"We showed we can compete with the best teams," D'Agostino said. "Now as a staff, we have to figure out how to beat those teams. We need a signature win next year to show we've made that progression. And if we keep progressing and developing, we're going to get one of those signature wins."
COS struck first when Bobby Peele (Edison) intercepted a Lindquist pass on the fourth play of the game and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown. It was Peele's seventh interception of the season and 12th of his two years with the Giants, one off the school's career record of 13 held by Tom Roberts (1963-65) and Jacob Yavasile (1997-98).
Butte, however, used a pair of big plays to go up 14-7 before the end of the first quarter, a 41-yard touchdown pass from Lindquist to Conner McKenzie and a 55-yard scoring run by Avery McCuaig.
The Roadrunners went ahead 21-14 on a 16-yard Williams run with 11:29 left in the second quarter before the Giants tied it again on a 2-yard scoring run by Green.
Butte took a 24-21 lead into halftime on Magnus Wattles' 29-yard field goal, a score set up when the officials ruled an incomplete pass on what appeared to be a bobbled quarterback exchange with 4 seconds left. The Roadrunners were out of timeouts and attempting a spike.
The Giants took the lead briefly with 58 seconds left in the third quarter when Bryson Allen (Tulare Union) hauled in a Villareal pass and took it 82 yards for his 11th touchdown of the season. Allen finished with 151 yards on three receptions.
Villareal completed 11 of 33 passes for 223 yards, while Green rushed for 70 yards on 16 carries. Both are expected to sign with four-year universities to continue their careers.
Villareal and Green are among 24 departing sophomores that D'Agostino and staff will have to replace, a group that also includes defensive stalwarts in linemen Noah Wright (Lemoore), Corleone Peters (New Orleans) and Undra Coverson (Macon, Ga.), linebackers Mitch Maggini (Riverdale), Judah Ruckman (Springville), Jeremiah Russell (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Rook Landers (Knoxville, Tenn.), and backs Noah Beukers (Washington Union), Israel Garcia (Dinuba), Jupri Hughes (Hanford), Issah Carr (South-Bakersfield) and Peele.
That group makes up 12 of COS' top 14 tacklers.
"We have some momentum going into the recruiting season," D'Agostino said. "We've got our work cut out for us, but I feel good about where we are at. We've just got to keep going after these young guys in our area and get them locked in.
"We're trending and that's a good thing. These kids have laid a good foundation for what's to come."
In addition to Villareal and Green on offense, the Giants will lose second-leading receiver Sergio Pena (Selma), but welcome back Allen and the five players who started on the offensive line in left tackle T.J. Parker (Macon, Ga.), left guard Rigo Lopez (Tulare Western), center Miguel Madrigal (Porterville), right guard Carlos Keil (Apia, Samoa) and right tackle Nick Smith (Redwood). Henry Wong (Fresno), and all-conference offensive lineman in 2018, also is expected to return from an injury that wiped out his sophomore season.
"We're headed in the right direction," D'Agostino said. "There is a lot to be positive about."