By Nick Giannandrea
After playing two experience-building games during an unprecedented and abbreviated spring season, College of the Sequoias' football team turns its attention toward the expected complete return of California community college athletics in the fall.
"We told the team that Football 101 says a team makes a big jump between game one and game two, and we made a big jump," first-year Giants coach Travis Burkett said. "Now we expect to make a huge jump in our scrimmage on Aug. 26, and then lay it on the line in week one of the fall season. We're really excited."
Sequoias wrapped up a season delayed six months and shortened from 10 games because of Covid-19 pandemic safety precautions with a 28-21 loss to Antelope Valley on March 27 at its campus field.
The Marauders also beat the Giants 33-13 on March 13 in Lancaster.
Antelope Valley and Sequoias are among seven of the state's 68 football-playing schools that opted to play a spring season.
"To see the kids' faces with the opportunity to compete, and to watch what they did in maximizing that opportunity was pretty special," Burkett said. "We're not interested in moral victories, and our kids get that. You could see that in their faces and in their resolve the past two weeks. We can build on that."
The second loss to figures to sting Sequoias for a while as the Marauders scored the go-ahead touchdown -- a 33-yard pass from backup quarterback Tooni Ikahihifo to Carlos Hill -- with only 5 seconds left in the game.
And the score came after the Giants forced an Antelope Valley punt with less than a minute left, only to see Marauders punter John Henderson improvise on a poor snap and run for a first down.
Ikahihifo entered for the first time on Antelope Valley's final drive after the Giants intercepted starter Caden Hinton four times.
Sequoias recovered a Marauders squib kick at the 50-yard line, but a Hail Mary attempt by Nathan Lamb (Tulare Union High) on the game's final play fell incomplete.
The Giants also had two cracks at breaking a 21-21 tie late in the fourth quarter, taking possession at their 45 following an interception by Julian Espinoza (Tulare Union) and at their 40 after forcing an Antelope Valley punt, but both drives failed to produce points.
"It was a hell of a ball game," Burkett said. "There were a lot of close plays. And at the end of the day, they made one more close play than we did."
Sequoias fell behind 7-0 in the first quarter on a 52-yard touchdown pass from Hinton to Davon Jones.
The Giants tied it 7-7 in the second quarter when Lamb connected with Bryan Cuevas (Woodlake) for a 23-yard touchdown.
Lamb put Sequoias ahead 14-7 early in the third quarter when he pulled down a pass attempt and scrambled for a 10-yard touchdown.
Antelope Valley tied the score 14-14 midway through the third on a 45-yard scoring pass from Hinton to Hill, and moved ahead 21-14 late in the third by converting a fourth-down trick play. Errius Collins caught a screen pass behind the line-of-scrimmage, then fired to Hill for a 33-yard touchdown.
Sequoias forced the game's third tie at 21-21 in the fourth quarter as Lamb hit Willie Neal Jr. (Fort Myers, Fla.) for a 17-yard touchdown.
The Giants lost despite enjoying a 6-3 advantage in turnovers that included interceptions from Elijah Garza (San Joaquin Memorial-Fresno), Lejuane Haynes (Hanford), Isaak Guzman (Porterville) and Espinoza, and fumble recoveries from Haynes and Jose Luis Ramos (Mt. Whitney).
Sequoias failed to score after any of its takeaways, while Antelope Valley converted two of its three takeaways into points.
"That's the most important stat in football," Burkett said. "We've got to do a deep dive on how to get better (at taking advantage of turnovers.)"
Burkett said all 48 players who suited up against Antelope Valley got into the game and made a contribution. He hopes to retain all 48 when the Giants launch the fall season.
"We learned we've got some tough dudes," Burkett said. "We believe in them. We love this group of guys. We think every single one will grow by leaps and bounds when they come back."