Six years is a long time between two playoff wins, but Will C. Wood High head coach Jacob Wright doesn’t care at all.
The first-year head coach saw his team, which had not won a playoff game since 2015 and had not made the playoffs since 2018, come back from a 21-14 deficit in the third quarter to defeat the visit of Nevada Union, 39. -27 on Friday evening.
“We knew it would be tough,” said a smiling Wright after the Sac-Joaquin IV Division playoff game. The Wildcats (8-3) travel to seeded Kimball next week for the second round.
Indeed, the first three quarters of the competition were difficult, more difficult than expected, especially after Wood quickly took a 14-0 lead four minutes from the end of the first quarter.
The Wildcats roamed the field on their first possession, able to beat off linebackers and Miners’ safeties. Thanks to a few penalties from Miner, Wood had the ball on the Nevada Union 39-yard line. That’s when quarterback Ken Tilford found wide receiver Camren Intermesoli in the left corner of the end zone for the evening’s first score.
Wood’s defense strengthened in the Miners’ first practice of the night, stopping Nevada Union on a fourth and goal from Wood’s five-yard line and putting the ball back into Tilford’s hands. Tilford, in turn, put the ball into the hands of running back Jayjay Olaes, which turned out to be a smart move. Olaes capped a six-game drive with a 14-yard run down center for the first of three touchdowns on the night.
Just like that, Wood had a 14-0 lead and appeared to be heading for victory. Nevada Union would have something to say about it, however. Gabe Baker took the field and led his Miner teammates to Wood’s two-yard line. That’s when backup quarterback Dustin Philpot arrived to throw a two-yard touchdown pass to Brenner Krogh to score a touchdown.
On their next possession, Wood faced a fourth and three of their own 39 when Wright decided to go for it instead of punting. The movement backfired when Tilford was sacked by Julian Spackman and Jedi Vculek for a 7-yard loss. The Miners took over on the downs, and four games later Baker hit a wide-open Drew Menet in the corner of the end zone from six yards to tie him at 14.
“We took that risk on the fourth down, we just didn’t get it,” Wright said of his bet early in the second quarter. “You take some of these risks sometimes, and it didn’t pay off. But it was 14-14 at halftime, I knew we were good.
In fact, Wood threatened to regain the lead towards the end of the second quarter. After starting a practice at their own 11 and moving the ball to Nevada Union 15, strong safety Trayton Santos caught a stray pass from Tilford at the three-yard line to smother the player and end the first half .
Nevada Union kicked off the second half and went into the air. Baker hit his favorite targets – Clay Renner and Menet – several times on the ride. Baker then found a wide-open Bodey Eelkema down the right side of the field for 41 yards to put the Miners ahead, 21-14. With just under two minutes gone into the quarter, it looked like the game was getting out of hand for the hosts.
It was then that the game took a major turn in favor of the Wildcats. Wood recovered the ball and faced a fourth and five of his own 41s. Anthony Ortiz returned to the punt and threw the ball towards the underage 29-yard line. The Nevada Union wide receiver was hit just as he caught the ball and missed it. Wood’s defensive back John James jumped on it, and Wood was back in business at Miner’s 29-yard line.
“The player who turned him over, he did a lot of great things for us on this punt team,” said Krishna Clay, who made several big plays from his place on the defensive line. “He’s one of those guys who gets our whole team back, no matter what.”
In the first game after the turnover, wide receiver Kristopher Butters moved up behind the minors’ defense, and as two defensive backs converged on opposing sides, Tilford’s pass slipped between them and into the rocking arms of Butters, who fell to the one-yard line. From there, Tilford scored on a quarterback to make it 21-20 after a missed point afterwards.
He was three and out for Nevada Union, and Wood picked up the ball from his own 7-yard line. Second and seventh of the 12th, Tilford passed the baton to Olaes, who found a seam in the middle, rushed to his left and passed the minors’ defense for an 88-yard touchdown.
“I just saw a hole, took it and finished with a touchdown,” said Olaes, who finished with 194 yards on 19 carries to go with his three touchdowns. “I have to give credit to my line. I’ve been fast since I was little, but training is everything, training makes perfect, that’s definitely what it is.
The Wildcats failed on the two-point conversion, bringing the score to 26-21. Another Nevada Union punt returned the ball to Wood on his own 41, and with momentum squarely on their side, the Wildcats wasted little time, scoring again when Olaes passed the minors’ defense for a TD from 59 yards to make it 32-21.
After Nevada Union scored on a pass from Baker TD to running back Camren Cormack, Miner’s kickoff went out of bounds, giving Wood a first try at his own 35. Tilford took the snap and went up down the middle, then left, then right through a minor’s defense grabbed the air for a 65-yard score.
“They were a little tired,” said Tilford, who with 168 passing yards added 202 rushing yards. “All the training, all the hard work after training, it really paid off. Our speed we didn’t think they could match, and over time we just kept pushing.
It made it 39-27, and it was time for Wood’s defense to step up. After a failed snap and fumble from Wood, Nevada Union had the ball on the Wildcat 5. Baker stepped back and threw to the end zone, where Warren Soli stepped in and picked it up on both.
“He ran a slope, we read it, me and Trent (Speers), we read it and the ball never came,” Soli said of the play before his first interception. “The second time it ran the same, I read it like a book and jumped on it and ‘boom’.”
After another punt from Wood, the miners rolled again. Baker pulled out of Wood 35 and pitched, only for Soli to make his second interception of the night. In his last practice of the night, Baker was sacked by Clay and fellow defensive end Nicholas Brown. In fourth place on 41, Baker’s pass was almost picked up by Soli, but fell harmlessly to the ground.
The Wildcats’ last playoff victory was a 59-33 win over American Canyon in 2015. Carson Strong, now Nevada quarterback, was a sophomore on that team.