By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The crowd wasn’t immense at Piner High for the Prospectors’ game against Petaluma on Saturday. It was a hot afternoon, and a sizable proportion of the Piner student body was in front of a mirror, prepping for the homecoming dance.
But those who attended the game were treated to a good one. And pretty much all of them were on their feet with about 4 minutes left when Piner’s Scott Simpson Jr. leaped above a jumble of players from both teams, plucked Fernando Ortega’s pass out of the air and sprinted for a dramatic 50-yard touchdown that could have tied the score and put the Trojans on the ropes.
Then everyone saw it, sitting on the artificial turf behind the line of scrimmage. It was the most nauseating color in football: yellow. Piner had drawn a penalty flag for holding.
The game wasn’t over, but the Prospectors wouldn’t get a better chance. Petaluma pulled out an action-packed 29-22 victory to maintain a share of first place in the SCL.
Piner coach John Antonio emphasized that the game wasn’t lost on that one penalty. But man, he would have liked to see a no-call there.
“There are holds on every play,” Antonio said. “The ball was out of (Ortega’s) hand so fast. A one-step drop. Certain officials have to have their hand in the game. Let these kids play.”
Piner’s last gasp ended with 1:09 left when Jose Ramirez ran the ball on a fourth-and-3 play and was marked down inches short of the first down.
It was a bitter defeat for the Prospectors, who overcame a couple of two-touchdown deficits to grab a 22-21 lead on Dillon Riveras’ 22-yard field goal with 9:37 remaining.
And it was a strange win for Petaluma, generally seen as the second-best team in the SCL behind powerhouse Analy.
The Trojans used a gutty 66-yard drive to pull out the game, converting two third-down plays along the way and finishing on Lucas Dentoni’s 18-yard touchdown run with 6:43 left in the game.
Quarterback Brenden White followed the TD by turning a broken play into a successful 2-point conversion, giving Petaluma its seven-point lead.
“In the middle of the third quarter, everyone was saying, ‘This is our season! This is our time!’ ” noted Trojans senior Luke Wheless.
But coach Rick Krist was anything but thrilled by his team’s performance.
The Trojans seemed to slumber after going up 21-7 on Wheless’ 93-yard kickoff-return touchdown 4 minutes into the second quarter. And Piner won the line of scrimmage all day. Not counting penalties and kneel-downs, the Prospectors ran 76 plays from scrimmage; Petaluma ran 33.
“Today is not a step forward,” Krist told his players after the game. “It’s 10 steps back. We’re still in first place, but it’s not something to whoop-whoo-whoop about.”
Krist elaborated afterward.
“I don’t think we woke up at all until our last drive, and the last defensive drive,” he said. “We were sleepwalking all game.”
Krist was especially disappointed about the mismatches up front. Piner’s Jose Ramirez ran 39 times for 183 tough yards and scored three times on short bursts, continuing his recent run of success. The Trojans didn’t sack Ortega once.
Petaluma had started the game with frightening precision. After Piner’s game-opening 6-minute drive fizzled with a missed field goal, it took the Trojans exactly 12 seconds to open the scoring. The Prospectors forgot to cover Harrison Royall and he reeled in an 80-yard touchdown pass from White.
After an interception by Royall, Petaluma needed barely more than a minute to score again on Eamon McMahon’s acrobatic 21-yard scoring reception.
Despite the tough loss, Antonio feels this game could be a pivot point for Piner.
“In my five years here, every team I’ve had, once we got down 14-0 it was game over,” Antonio said. “To fight back just wasn’t in our makeup. But they battled. That’s why I feel so bad for them.”