Friday night was a night of jubilation in the Gridley High Bone Yard as the Bulldogs beat the Live Oak Lions for the first time since 2004 and the first “Harvest Bowl” win. Gridley's junior varsity won 37-7.
The Bulldogs made it apparent on Friday night that new uniforms and a renovated field weren’t the only changes that have taken place within the Gridley High School football program in the past year. After suffering a season opening defeat at the hands of the Willows Honkers and being forced to forfeit their home opener against Monterey, it appeared as if the Bulldogs were heading down an all too familiar path. Coming into the annual rivalry game against the Live Oak Lions, the Bulldogs hadn’t felt a victory since their 36-29 win over Wheatland at the end of the 2011 season. Against the Lions, who entered the game 2-1, Gridley hadn’t seen a win since the 2004 season. But when the Bulldogs walked onto the perfectly manicured and recently renovated field, sporting brand new gold jerseys, one could sense something different about the atmosphere inside the Bone Yard. Gridley was quick to prove that theory to be true, as junior running back Colton Graff took off 38-yards down the sideline on Gridley’s second possession to put the Bulldogs on the board first. Gridley held onto the 7-0 lead until halfway through the second quarter when Live Oak junior Jevin Cheema had a 37-yard pick-six. The game remained 7-7 headed into the half. But after the break, Gridley again opened with something to prove. After receiving the kick just shy of the goal line, junior Jonah Derder scrambled past would-be tacklers 76 yards to the Lions’ 21-yard line. Feeding off the momentum, quarterback Emery Haddy quickly put the Bulldogs up 13-7 after connecting with senior wide out Shobi Khan from 8-yards out. Later in the quarter, the Lions took over possession at Gridley’s 3-yard line after a botched Bulldog punt. Live Oak tied the game, 14-14, after a 2-yard run on fourth-and-goal by senior Andrew Lopez, who stepped up at quarterback for an injured Steven Garcia. The fourth quarter was all defense as both teams battled to keep the other from scoring. No one wants to lose any game, let alone a rivalry game against people you may know. It seemed that the Bulldogs would break the stalemate, as Haddy led the Gridley offense deep into the Lions’ territory with under a minute left in regulation. On fourth-and-goal from 11 yards out, Bulldog fans went crazy as Haddy connected with Khan. The celebration was brief however, as Khan was stopped at the 2-yard line. With only seconds left on the clock, the Lions had little chance to take the ball 98-yards downfield to pullout a last second victory. It’s seldom that a rivalry game gets as exciting as this one did, but what can make a rivalry game more exciting than extra periods? According to high school overtime rules, if a game is sent into extra periods, each team will have four downs to score from the 10-yard line. After a coin toss to see who would start with the ball, the Lions began their attempt to secure their reign as Harvest Bowl champ from the Bulldogs’ 10-yard line. But Gridley’s defense had a different plan in mind. After three unsuccessful downs the Lions were forced to attempt a 22-yard field goal, but the kick was wide left. Finally, it was the Bulldogs’ turn to try and seal the deal. Both sides were on the edge of their seats after a second down completion by Haddy to Mikey Herrera put the Bulldogs on Live Oak’s 1-yard line. Its moments like these that create memories that are never forgotten. One yard was all that stood between Gridley and a victory that could change the momentum for the rest of the season. On third down, Haddy took the snap from center Edmund Punzo and made a leap toward the end zone that will forever be cemented in his memory. As the head referee raised both of his arms above his head, Gridley faithfuls let out a roar that could have very well been heard from Live Oak. Fans, players, and coaches rushed the field in celebration as the Bulldogs had finally made Gridley the new home of the Golden Reaper after six years. With spray paint in hand, Bulldog players immediately gave the Reaper a blue and gold makeover. The Bulldogs’ ground game, led by Graff, dominated the Lions’ defense and has improved remarkably since the previous season. Graff picked up 150 yards on 18 carries and a score, while Jonathan Villapania carried the ball 12 times for 73 yards. Haddy finished with 113 yards with a 1-yard score on the ground and an 8-yard passing touchdown to Khan. Gridley’s defense was outstanding the entire game, and didn’t allow the Lions to get a first down until under two minutes in the first half. Both of the Lions’ scores stemmed from a mistake made by the Bulldogs’ offense or special teams. Matt Evans had 37 yards on 19 carries for the Lions. Jevin Cheema returned a 37-yard INT for a score, while Andrew Lopez had a 2-yard rushing score and an interception. Gridley's junior varsity team beat the JV Lions, 37-7. The Lions host the Winters Warriors next week, while Gridley opens up BVL play with Orland next week at home.