STRATHMORE — There's no other way of putting it, the Spartans wouldn't be denied.
The Strathmore High football team overcame about as much adversity as a team could — injuries to its two best players, penalties, turnovers, but in the end the Spartans came through to hold off Reedley 21-14 on Friday at Spartan Stadium in the first round of the Central Section Division III playoffs.
Strathmore improved to 11-0 and even though the Spartans were the No. 2 seed and Reedley was the No. 15 seed, this was about as a deceiving 2-15 matchup as could as the Pirates came into the game with an 8-1 record.
Strathmore survives to host another playoff game at 7 p.m. this Friday and it won't get any easier as the Spartans will host against No. 7 seed Bakersfield Christian, which drilled No. 10 seed Stockdale 50-6. And the Spartans could possible have to do it without star running back Carlos Moreno, who suffered what looked like could have been a season-ending injury.
The Spartans also had to overcome losing quarterback Jaylen Oats for two plays after he hurt his leg as well. Moreno had rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries before he had to come out of the game with an injury late in the third quarter.
Meanwhile Reedley standout running back Ryan Warkentin gained 132 hard-earned yards on 28 carries against a stingy Spartan defense. Warkentin also gained 111 yards on six receptions.
Oats had another outstanding game for Strathmore, completing 7-of-9 passes for 136 yards, including a 39-yard scoring pass to Cael Alkire that turned out to be the difference of the game. For Reedley Jacob Rocha completed 15-of-25 passes for 213 yards, but also threw two costly interceptions.
Oats also rushed for 63 yards on eight carries. Oats, Adrian Sierra and Bernie Navarro all carried a key load in the fourth quarter in Moreno's absence, gaining precious yards and taking precious time off the clock.
Strathmore appeared to be in control in the third quarter, preserving a 21-7 lead with a defensive stand inside its 5-yard line. Sebastian Gonzalez tacked Warkentin for a 6-yard loss back to the SHS 14-yard line and that was a key play of many for the Spartans as on the next play Warkentin gained 10 yards to set up a fourth and two at the Strathmore 4. But on the next play the Spartans gang tackled Warkentin for no gain to turn the Pirates away.
SHS picked up a first down but then the adversity just began for SHS when Moreno was writhing in pain on the ground after a 1-yard gain on first down to the Spartan 16. After he was helped off the field, Oats took over with runs of 25 and 21 yards.
But Oats was injured after his 21 yard gain down to the Reedley 29. He had to come out for two plays. On the second play he was out, the first play of the fourth quarter, Strathmore fumbled the ball away.
SHS still appeared to be in good shape when it had forced Reedley into a fourth and 13 at its own 24. But then the adversity really got going when Strathmore was called for an unsportsmanlike penalty, keeping the drive alive. Warkentin eventually scored on a 2-yard run to pull Reedley to within 21-14 — and still with 9:53 left in the game.
Then came more key plays for Strathmore. Sierra returned the ensuing kickoff 37 yards to the Spartan 42.
SHS had to punt, but Alkire's 40-yard punt pinned Reedley at its 11. Strathmore's Jacob Poole eventually recovered a fumble at the Reedley 46. SHS drove the ball down to the Reedley 19, but fumbled the ball away with 2:48 left.
But the Strathmore defense came up big, forcing four straight incomplete passes with Manuel Andrade breaking up two of the passes. SHS then was able to milk the clock down to 6 seconds left before giving the ball back to Reedley at its 34 and the Spartans tackled Warkentin for a short gain in the open field to end the game.
Strathmore drove down to the Reedley 20 to open the game and faced 4th and 1. Moreno appeared to have gotten the first down by at least a half a yard but he was ruled to be just shy of the first down on a questionable mark.
Reedley took over and marched right down the field with Andrew Medina scoring on a 3-yard run to give the Pirates a 7-0 lead.
But SHS dominated the rest of the first half. Andrade caught a 28-yard pass from Oats to set up Moreno's 39-yard scoring run to tie the score 7-7.
Strathmore forced Reedley to punt, SHS put together another drive, with Moreno scoring on a 4-yard run to give the Spartans a 13-7 lead.
Raul Morales snuffed out Reedley's next drive, intercepting a pass at the Spartan 30. Strathmore went on to score on the 39-yard strike from Oats to Alkire and Moreno ran it in for the 2-point conversion to give SHS a 21-7 lead.
On Reedley's next possession, Andrew Bounyavong made a spectacular leaping interception at the SHS to stop a Pirate scoring threat near the end of the half and Strathmore led 21-7 at halftime.
MONACHE, LHS WIN, PHS FALLS
Monache, the No. 14 seed in Division IV, pulled off the upset, winning at No. 3 Exeter 25-8. In Division VI, Lindsay, seeded No. 8, defeated No. 9 seed Kern Valley 13-6 at Frank Skadan Stadium. Monache advanced to play at No. 6 Independence next week. Lindsay advanced to play at No. 1 Taft next week in the quarterfinals.
For more details, see Monday's edition of The Recorder.
Porterville High, the No. 9 seed in Division IV, lost at No. 8 Highland 15-6.