LODI — First it was Justin Evans. Then it was Frank Silva. Next came Timmy Celestine. And, finally, there was Brian Ramsey.
The defense of the Lodi High football team never knew which Tracy player was going to get the ball — or where they were going to go.
Ultimately, it was big runs by the quarterback Evans and the Bulldogs’ trio of runners that sent Tracy to a 35-26 victory over Lodi on a wet and foggy Friday night at the Grape Bowl.
After mustering only one win last season, the Bulldogs (3-1 San Joaquin Athletic Association, 6-3 overall) head into next week’s contest against first-place Lincoln at Peter B. Kyne Field with a chance to share the league title.
The odds of Tracy beating a powerful Lincoln team are slim, but that’s just fine with Tracy coach Mark Stroup.
“If you would have told me at the beginning of the season we had a chance for a league championship and to go to the playoffs heading into the 10th week, I would have taken it,” he said.
The Flames (2-2, 5-4), meanwhile, are out of the league title picture, but still remain in the playoff hunt. If Lodi beats Franklin and Tracy falls to Lincoln, there would be a three-way tie for the second and final playoff berth, to be determined by the 13-point tiebreaker.
“And who would you rather beat (than Franklin)” asked Lodi coach Todd Dillon.
Both coaches were well aware of the tiebreaker situation late in Friday¹s contest. Holding a 28-26 lead, Ramsey broke a 33-yard run to the Lodi 2-yard line with just over a minute to play. What normally would have been an obvious kneel-down situation, so as not to risk a turnover or give Lodi the ball back, turned into an opportunity for the Bulldogs to extend their point total.
The pivotal league showdown was a tale of two halves, as the teams only produced 75 yards each of total offense and a 7-6 score at halftime, with Lodi holding the lead.
But in the second half, the offenses awoke from their slumber, as Lodi went for 204 yards and Tracy racked up 323 yards, 319 of which came on the ground.
In the third, Tracy jumped out to a 21-7 lead with two quick drives of more than 70 yards. The first was capped by a 2-yard run by Silva and the second a 41-yard scamper by Evans. Lodi responded with a 36-yard TD run by Stephen Kassner, but Lodi missed the critical extra point. After a squib kickoff was recovered by Lodi, the Flames cut the Tracy lead to two with a 1-yard QB keeper by Kevin Lauchland, but failed to convert the two-point conversion.
The teams exchanged touchdowns one more time, but Lodi’s special teams breakdowns were too much for the Flames to overcome.
Tracy sophs 53, Lodi 27
Lodi saw the Tracy High sophomore football team’s thunder and lightning running attack going full throttle Friday night, as Tracy remained unbeaten in the San Joaquin Athletic Association.
Fullback Jamaris Knighten rambled for four touchdowns in the first half, and halfback Kevin Franklin ran for three more in the second half to pace the Bullpups.
Knighten’s two first-quarter scores of 44 yards and 48 yards gave Tracy an insurmountable 14-0 lead. His six-yard and five-yard runs before the half put Lodi even farther behind.
Franklin tallied touchdowns from 5, 14 and 20 yards away, before running back Elmer Avery finished Tracy’s scoring with another run, from eight yards out.
For the game, the Bullpups gained 327 yards rushing in just 34 attempts, with Knighten piling up 157 yards on 14 carries, and Franklin amassing 134 yards on 10 tries.
“Our (offensive) line is one of our strengths,” said Tracy coach Jeremy Silcox. “Either it is right at you or we’ll trap you. The trap was working the best because Lodi was very aggressive.”
The Flames didn’t cool the Bullpups’ air attack, either. Quarterback Preston Mattos was completed all four of his passes for 93 yards, including two passes for a combined 50 yards to receiver Tanner Rockwell and one completion to Andrew Glover for 40 yards.
On defense, the Bullpups quickly established their dominance when the line rushed the Lodi quarterback, forcing a fumble on the first series that led to a Knighten touchdown.
Tracy (4-0 SJAA, 7-2 overall) will try to repeat its league title with a game at 5:15 p.m. Friday at Peter B. Kyne Field against undefeated Lincoln.
• The Tracy Press’ Jack Eddy contributed to this story.