Last Friday, for the first time since flames engulfed the town of Paradise on Nov. 8, 2018, spectators gathered to watch the return of Friday Night Lights as the Bobcats hosted the Williams Yellowjackets.
Paradise went 8-2 last season but lost out on playoffs due to the firestorm that struck the day before, ending their season.
A plethora of first responders marched on the field on Friday and were greeted with a truly rousing and emotional cheer from a crowd of about 5,000 spectators. Shortly after, a group of 13 seniors from last year’s Bobcat squad led the traditional march down the center of the stands with “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” by Johnny Cash blaring and carrying two American Flags: one flag to honor those who lost their lives and the other to pay tribute to the first responders.
“Paradise Strong came alive,” said Williams High Ag teacher, Kristi Hill. “The support this town has received and all the first responders here tonight is just an honor to be a part of. Seeing all these people come together, unified, supporting Paradise as they take the field for the first time since the tragedy, is emotional.”
Following the National Anthem, several news crews, reporters, and photographers gathered for one of the most memorable coin tosses in high school football history. Paradise won the toss and would start the night kicking off to Williams. Before taking to the field, Williams varsity captains and the Williams athletic director presented the Bobcats with a supportive banner and check for $1,800 for Paradise High School.
Kick off got underway and the Jackets received the ball on the 45 yard line. Unable to convert on downs, Williams was forced to punt. Paradise tore down the field 70 yards on their first possession, capped with a 10-yard touchdown run by Lukas Hartley, making it a 7-0 Bobcat lead with only three minutes gone in the game.
Mason Cowan from Paradise would score the second touchdown of the night with a 60-yard catch and run in, giving the Bobcats a 14-0 lead.
Williams, plagued with nerves and incompletions, were no contest for the Bobcats, as Paradise went on to claim two more touchdowns in the first half, leading to a running clock and a 35-0 shut out over the Jackets.
Back on defense in the second half, Williams came out with more confidence and was able to stop the Bobcats from gaining yards in the third quarter, but that confidence quickly dissipated as Harley once again broke loose for a 40-yard run before finishing off the drive with a 23-yard touchdown, making it a 42-0 Paradise lead.
Williams put forth their best efforts for yardage attempts but fell short, leaving Paradise with their first season victory.
“Paradise may have won the game in numbers, but there were two championship teams on that field,” said Williams alumnus Nip Boyes. “There are just no words I can use to express my pride and admiration.”
Williams Head Coach Jeff Lemus said his team competed from the start until the end of the game, and that he was proud of the effort the Williams players gave.
“Moving forward this game will make us better due to the speed and level of talent we just saw,” Lemus said.
Williams will descend to Live Oak on Friday with a 7:30 PM varsity start time.