At halftime on Friday night, it appeared as if homecoming night for the Fremont Firebirds would be spoiled by the Santa Clara Bruins. The visitors held a 17-3 lead at the half on the strength of impressive running from tailback Matthew Nguyen and a passing attack featuring wide receiver Jeremiah Karongo.
The Firebirds would battle back in the second half though and eventually tie things up at 17-17 early in the fourth quarter. Touchdown runs by Elijah Smith and Henry Buenrostro evened things up.
However, the tie didn’t last long. Santa Clara responded quickly with a touchdown drive of its own to go back ahead with 9:19 left in the fourth. A 35-yard completion from quarterback Matthew Conklin to Karongo set up a four-yard touchdown run by Nguyen.
After a stalled drive from Fremont, it looked yet again like the Firebirds’ homecoming night would be spoiled by the Bruins. Santa Clara drove down the field and looked prime to take a 10-point lead with under four minutes to play. But that’s when a wild turn of events flipped this game upside down.
The Firebirds blocked the Bruins’ field goal attempt and Fremont safety Don Martinez picked up the ball and returned it down the sideline a whopping 85-yards for a game-tying touchdown. A 10-point swing in a flash.
On the very next play from scrimmage, the Firebirds stayed hot. The Bruins went for a deep shot down field and Fremont came away with an interception, its third of the night, at the team’s own 39-yard line.
Fremont’s ground game would quickly push the ball down the field with nice runs from Buenrostro and Alexander Solarez. Eventually, Buenrostro would quarterback sneak the ball into the end zone with 15 seconds remaining for the game-winning touchdown, a 31-24 final.
“In the first half, we weren’t in the right mindset. We were slow and couldn’t get the ball moving,” chimed Martinez, who kicked a 46-yard field goal himself, in addition to returning the blocked field goal for a touchdown. “In the second half we got back focused, knowing that we could do much better as a team. Once everyone got on the same page and got in rhythm, we were in the right spot. We were fighting to win, kept trying and trying. We have the heart and we don’t give up.”
“We were not playing very well early. We were making a lot of mistakes, personnel problems, getting the right kids in the right place,” admitted Fremont Head Coach Rob Swartz on the first half. “We had game planned to attack the perimeter more and it wasn’t working. So, we went back to our base offense in the second half and it seemed to work a lot better.”
In the first half it was the Bruins controlling both lines of scrimmage. After halftime, though, the Fremont offense got its ground game going and despite the defense still struggling to stop the Bruins’ Nguyen, Fremont came up with the key interceptions and blocked field goals to get the job done.
“We turned the ball over,” noted Bruins Head Coach Nelson Gifford on what went wrong in the second half. “Simple as that.”