CALIFORNIA CITY — Defense has been the strength of the California City football team this season.
When the Ravens needed a stand Friday night against Sierra Pacific, the defense came up with a big play.
The Ravens forced five turnovers, including an interception by junior Louie Contreras in the final minute to seal the victory, preserving an 18-6 win over Sierra Pacific in a CIF-Central Section Division 6 quarterfinal game at California City High School.
The Ravens (10-2) advance to the semifinals for the third time since 2014 and will host the winner of Friday’s Mission Prep/Orosi game next week.
“More of our strength comes from our defense, because everybody likes hitting,” California City senior Kwamain Ross said. “Defense is our favorite day at practice. We execute better on defense than offense, but when we need offense they come.”
The Ravens forced Sierra Pacific (5-7) into five fumbles, including two California City was able to recover in the first half, as the Ravens took a 12-0 lead at halftime.
California City scored on its second possession, when Ross scored on a 19-yard run early in the second quarter, breaking several tackles to cap an 11-play, 69-yard drive.
“The first quarter we were a little sloppy, but the second quarter we picked it up,” Ross said. “We got our things down. We kind of executed more on offense than defense today, but at the end of the day defense did do a good job at a big value point in this game. So I’m proud of my defense and offense today.
“Our teammates came out and they played. They didn’t want go home. They said it’s not our week to leave.”
The Cal City defense forced the first Sierra Pacific turnover on the ensuing drive, as Cal City senior Khalil McLin recovered a fumble.
The Ravens were able to capitalize on the turnover.
Ross caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from senior Jeremiah Neal on the fifth play of the ensuing drive.
“I feel like we played pretty good,” said Neal, a first-year varsity player. “Everybody came out firing on all cylinders. Defense stepped up.
“We have big play makers on our team. A lot of people on our team played really good.”
Cal City senior Robert Mitchell recovered a fumble on the Golden Bears’ first play of the next possession, but the Ravens, who had five shutouts this season, were unable to capitalize.
Ross credited the Ravens’ two starting defensive ends — senior McLin and junior Marquis McKenzie, who had two sacks in the fourth quarter.
“They had a hell of a game today,” Ross said. “They played their hearts out.”
Ross also singled out linebackers — juniors Jacob Rangel and Contreras.
“They haven’t played like that in three weeks,” Ross said.
Rangel had a fumble recovery in the third quarter and almost had an interception in the fourth.
Ross said senior safety Mitchell and sophomore Zarias Rose both played well despite dealing with injuries. Rose had a fumble recovery in the third quarter.
“They’re both hurt, but they came out playing, because they knew we needed this game,” Ross said.
Cal City junior Kion Blakney had a sack in the second quarter.
“I feel great. We came out able to run the ball well,” California City coach Brandon Rivers said. “Defensively we got things going. Guys played really hard. I’m proud of them. This is the most selfless we’ve played all year. Guys who are used to getting the ball out there throwing blocks. We had everyone sold into doing whatever we had to do to make sure we got the plays.”
Neal led the Ravens’ rushing attack with 122 yards on 17 carries, as the Ravens rushed for a combined 216 yards on 45 carries by seven different ball carriers.
Neal also completed 4-of-9 passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns.
Ross rushed for 42 yards on four carries and Rose had 15 yards on nine carries.
Cal City finished with 317 total yards in offense, while Sierra Pacific finished with 193, after being held to 54 in the first half.
The Golden Bears scored on their second possession in the second half, as senior Gavin Gamble scored on a six-yard run to cap a 13-play, 71-yard drive.
Sierra Pacific was able to recover the ensuing onside kick, but Rose recovered a fumble on the Golden Bears’ first play.
Although Cal City was unable to finish that drive, the Ravens scored one possession later as Ross caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Neal on a fourth down and seven-yard play. Ross made a leaping catch in the back corner of the end zone to give the Ravens an 18-6 lead with two minutes and 42 seconds remaining.
“Jeremiah and Kwamain came through big time,” Rivers said. “He’s been playing running back but he’s been doing everything for us. He was able to complete two big time passes to Kwamain. Without those the game is totally different. They made the plays when we needed them and that’s just who they are. We expect to get one or two long balls a game and they came through again like they have all season.”
The Golden Bears started their final drive at midfield and were able to advance to the Cal City 3-yard line, but a sack by McKenzie pushed them back and Contreras sealed the victory with the interception.
The Ravens lost to Strathmore 27-6 in the semifinals last season.