Victor Gutierrez FG lifts Eagles over La Vernia in rivalry thriller

PLEASANTON—Despite temperatures that had fans bundled up in jackets and blankets at Eagle Stadium on Friday night, few spectators left before the final whistle. The Pleasanton football team did plenty to keep everyone in their seats and in the process came away with a win bigger than the homecoming mums sprinkled throughout the arena.

Victor Gutierrez kicked a 19-yard field goal with 2:07 remaining, and the Eagles defense held off La Vernia to preserve an 18-17 win to move into sole possession of first place in District 15-4A Division I.

“Make the field goal,” the senior kicker said of his mindset. “That’s it, just make the field goal.”

The Bears (4-4, 2-1 district) drove to the Pleasanton 36 in the waning minutes, but the Eagles had consecutive stops in the backfield to thwart the last-ditch effort.

La Vernia senior Derrik Barnhardt, who had a team-high 90 receiving yards, took the Bears to the Pleasanton 36 following an 18-yard catch with time winding down. The Eagles (8-0, 3-0) stuffed the Bears on back-to-back plays, pushing La Vernia back 21 yards.

Hunter Norment’s sack set up a fourth-and-31 that proved to be too much for the Bears to overcome.

“We’re just going out to get the job done and finishing like we’ve talked about all year” Norment said. “I just put my head down and went.”

After trailing for less than four minutes all season, Pleasanton played from behind most of the night. La Vernia recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff to set up an early field goal. Just over three minutes later, the Bears extended the lead to 10-0 on a 55-yard TD pass from Clayton Chadwick to Hunter Homeyer.

“Everything that could’ve went wrong in the first half seemed like it went wrong for us,” Pleasanton coach Stephen Liska said. “…They never quit. They stuck with it. That’s just resilience. Like coach [Chuck] Black said, a good team, when they don’t have their best stuff, finds a way to win.”

The Eagles failed to score in the opening quarter for the first time this year and punted on five consecutive possessions following their fumble to start the game.

But the Pleasanton defense kept them within striking distance and even kicked off the scoring.

A snap from the La Vernia 5-yard line sailed over Chadwick’s head for a safety midway through the second quarter that gave the Eagles their first sign of life.

The play seemed to spark the Pleasanton offense as well. The Eagles went 44 yards on the ensuing drive for their first TD. Quarterback Johnny Zamora pulled Pleasanton within 10-9 on a 10-yard option keeper 2:59 before halftime. Zamora ran for a season-high 58 yards.

The Bears punched back on the first drive of the second half. Running back Diego Mendoza rumbled 33 yards on the possession’s fifth play, breaking multiple tackles to put La Vernia up 17-9.

The Eagles had another first on the next drive. Zamora threw his first interception of the season after 154 pass attempts. But like it did all night, the Pleasanton defense stepped up when called upon.

The Eagles forced a three-and-out, and Zamora quickly made up for his turnover. The junior opened the drive with a 19-yard run before connecting with Dalton Hobbs for a 75-yard TD pass on the next play. Hobbs outran a pair of defenders after hauling in the throw around midfield. Hobbs finished with three catches for 130 yards and has nine TDs on the season.

The Bears stopped the two-point conversion to maintain a 17-15 advantage with 4:37 left in the third quarter.

Pleasanton forced a turnover on downs and a punt to set up the game-winning drive.

“Our defense bent a little bit but didn’t break,” Liska said.

The Eagles took over at their 39 with six minutes remaining. Ten plays later, Gutierrez split the uprights on fourth and goal from the La Vernia 2-yard line.

“Victor’s a great kid, and I have a lot of confidence in him too,” Liska said. “The snapper, Hunter Norment, and then [holder] Jordan Bosquez has to put that son-of-a-gun down. There’s a lot of pressure on that for a high school kid.”

Pleasanton, off to its best start since 2013, will host Somerset in its final home game Friday. The Bulldogs (6-2, 2-1) enter after a 56-6 win over Robstown last week. The Eagles close the regular season at Beeville the following Friday.

“Our team’s doing very good, so that’s an awesome feeling in the air right now,” Norment said. “Fans better expect more games like this, because [Somerset and Beeville] are just as tough.”

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