The Pierce Bears football team earned its second straight Rice Bowl victory last week, beating Williams 35-21 on the road at McCarl Field on Friday night.
While this year’s rendition of the county’s longest-running rivalry game featured plenty of explosive plays – particularly in the first half – it was the consistent, hard-nosed running from Pierce’s junior fullback, Matthew Tapia, that paced the Bears to victory.
That’s not to say that Tapia wasn’t explosive – he gave the Bears their first lead of the game with 5:18 left in the first quarter, bursting through the line, splitting two Yellowjacket defenders and sprinting 44-yards for a score on his first carry – but his ability to consistently gain positive yardage and protect the football helped the Bears put the game away in the second half.
Tapia carried the load for Pierce, finishing the night with 20 carries for 124 yards and a score on the ground. He also ran in a two-point conversion. Even excluding his early long run, the bruising fullback averaged a respectable 4.2 yards-per-carry.
“I think Matthew stood out,” said Pierce head coach Anthony Tapia. “He likes these county games. He likes to come out, and he’s focused. We kind of wanted to get (starting fullback) Tommy (Davis) running again, get him rolling. He had an off night, but like I tell these guys, trust the person next to you. It’ll be great when we have them both on the same page, but I’m just glad that when we called (Matthew’s) number, he just handled the load… He really stepped up tonight.”
On Friday, both teams put up big points in the first half. Williams opened the scoring on their second offensive possession, which started at their own 46-yard line. On third-and-6 from midfield, a pair of Williams seniors – quarterback Hunter Povlsen and receiver Daniel Davalos – connected for a 50-yard score through the air. Povlsen hit the receiver on an underneath route, and Davalos spun through one tackle and broke another on the way to the end-zone with 8:30 left in the first quarter.
Quarterback Ramon Paiz answered on Pierce’s next play from scrimmage, taking an option keeper 73 yards for a score. Pierce forced a three-and-out before Tapia broke his long touchdown run to put the Bears up 14-7. After another Williams three-and-out, the Bears marched 82 yards in 11 plays before Tommy Davis capped the drive with a three-yard rushing touchdown to start the second quarter, putting the Bears up 20-7.
Williams cut the gap to six points on a 10-play, 63-yard scoring drive, capped by another Povlsen-to-Davalos touchdown. This time, Davalos beat a Pierce defender on a post route, and Povlsen hit him in stride for a 25-yard score. Williams regained the lead less than two minutes later, when Juan Zamudio – playing defensive end – scooped up a ball that squirted out of Paiz’s hands at a dead run, and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown. It was the senior’s second scoop-and-score this season, his first coming two weeks ago against Live Oak. After the extra point, Williams was up 21-20 with just over four minutes left in the half – but they wouldn’t hold a lead by halftime.
The Bears, helped along by a pair of 15-yard penalties by the Yellowjackets (including a pass interference on an early third down that extended the drive), marched down to Williams’ 16-yard line, where they were faced with a fourth-and-5 situation with just 17 seconds left in the half. After a timeout, Paiz connected with tight-end Luke Voorhees for a touchdown, and Tapia ran the two-point conversion in to extend the lead to seven points.
Neither team would score again until the fourth quarter, when Paiz tossed another scoring strike to Gabe Villa on fourth-and-14 from Williams’ 18-yard line. Williams threatened to cut the Bears’ lead to seven points late in the fourth, but saw their drive stall just two yards from the end-zone when a Povlsen pass fell incomplete in the right flat on fourth-and-goal. With just 3:30 left in the game, the Bears gave the ball to Tapia five times in six plays to run out the clock and come away with the 35-21 win.
In addition to Tapia, Paiz had a strong night for Pierce. The quarterback was 3-of-7 for 42 yards and two touchdowns passing, with one apiece for Voorhees and Villa. Paiz and Villa would have connected for another touchdown in the fourth quarter, but Villa was unable to haul in what was perhaps the best ball Paiz threw all night at Williams’ 5-yard line. Paiz added 94 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.
“We took him out on defense, so he can be better rested on offense,” coach Anthony Tapia said of his quarterback. “I could just tell he was antsy. He is our leader, and I don’t think anyone wants to win as much as he does. I can depend on him to bring that effort every time he’s in the game. He’s definitely a big reason why we won tonight’s game. He makes plays – he’s not going to sit there and throw it a bunch of times, but when he does, we feel comfortable when we ask him to do that.”
Hunter Povlsen had a solid night passing for the Yellowjackets, completing 16-of-29 passes for 173 yards and 2 TD. Both of his scores went to Daniel Davalos, who ended the night with 97 yards on six catches.
For Tapia – a 2008 Pierce High School graduate – Friday marked his fourth Rice Bowl win – having earned one as a player and two as an assistant coach – and his first at the helm of the program. Three games into the season, he feels like his team is improving with every game.
“We’re a good group,” Tapia said.