The Heart of a Lion – El Diamante

For some reason, the El Diamante Miners keep winning. When you look at the roster they have, if you look at the injuries, a number of dismissals and the daunting schedule, anyone that predicted this team after the first 4 weeks to go 7-3 and win the WYL outright probably got laughed at. Fittingly enough, I was one of those people that had some doubts. I had a good amount of confidence that some of the moments we saw last year would translate into this year, but I never saw this coming.

For whatever reason, people in Visalia and in the valley always forget how much of a powerhouse the El Diamante football program has been since it’s inaugural season. The Miners have cemented an overall winning percentage of 65.2% (107-57). That’s among the best in all of Division II and better than a few teams in Division I. But the gigantic misleading stat that is giving non-Miners an excuse is since the Miners 2013 12-1 and Valley Title season, they have sputtered out a winning percentage of 51.1% (22-21). That includes this year’s 7-3 campaign. For some unknown reason that I’ll never understand, the past 3 seasons has served as a giant illusion that has clouded the brains of fans, students, and players in Division II – outside of the Green Sea. But with that being said, this was a team that, despite all the success, and despite winning now 8 league titles in 16 years , needed to have yet another breakout season to cement its place in the front of the wolfpack that we call the WYL. Their terrific season has certainly had some side effects, but a few black eyes here and there have not stopped the Miners from grinding their way to a League and Section Championship.

At this point, I’m convinced the injury bug literally lives on the El D campus. If there is such a thing, that little jerk feasts off of anyone who wears the color green and has a Giant M on their helmet. Year in and year out, the Miners endure gut-wrenching injuries to even more important players. The imaginary yet highly dangerous bug has made an impact since literally minutes into the Miners season, when Drake Beno was knocked out for the year with a knee injury in the first quarter against Tulare Western. After Beno went down, it was all downhill from there, as the injuries piled up week after week. Trying to name them all is pretty close to impossible, but the most significant one came just last week against Golden West. DeVontae Freeman went down with a shoulder injury on the Miners’ final drive and didn’t return. To add on that, JayVon Hightower sprained his ankle earlier in the game and was walking around on crutches the rest of the night. Watching Freeman get helped off the field left a hopeless and empty feeling in the Miner fanbase. It was literally a “Now what?” moment since Freeman was the last true Running Back the Miners had on their roster. El D finished the game with their 4th receiver (Eric Zendejas) and Alex Mata (who doesn’t play offense) as Wide Outs. Running Back was an even bigger mess. The Miners kept throwing out Linebackers and DBs in the backfield to try and piece something together. Keep in mind, all this came on the final drive with the game tied at 20. But once Freeman went down, the Miners sprayed some pixie dust and let the magic happen.

Junior Quarterback Parker Boswell has been overlooked the entire season. In the Miners’ playoff push that they’re currently on, Boswell hasn’t gotten the amount of love he deserves. His numbers aren’t staggering. He doesn’t turn the ball over that much, but for a guy with the arm talent he has, he doesn’t get a lot of pass attempts. But on Friday night, when Parker Boswell watched his partner in crime, and the beating heart of the Miner offense get helped off the field, he flipped a switch that turned him into a Superhero and took over the game. But here’s the interesting part, he didn’t do it with his arm. He did it with his legs. It was designed Quarterback runs that carried the Miners down the field. Play after play, Rogers would call Boswell’s number. And play after play, Boswell got it done. He converted huge 3rd downs, he would narrow his way through a small hole to pick up 6 yards, he dug deep and showed the world his high amount of leadership and toughness. He also made me look silly because I mentioned in a previous article that he isn’t a big mobile threat. Well Parker, you proved me wrong. The heart of a lion is what carried the Miners down the field, ultimately ending with a 23 yard Field Goal from the best kicker in the Central Valley, Alex Saldana. Saldana’s boot split the uprights with 12 seconds left. And after a couple of celebration penalties, and one last Golden West heave that fell short, the Miners knocked off the 8-1 Blazers 23-20. They had brought the Saddle back home, and won an outright league title in the process.

All that came after the Miners fought back from a 14-0 early deficit that had many people thinking that this game would be over early. After jumping out to an extremely quick first quarter 14-0 lead, and then recovering an onside kick, Golden West was then lucky enough to face the gritty and angry toughness the Miners possessed, and they were no match for it. But if there’s one thing that is for sure, it’s that the Miners will need to bring that same amount of toughness and grit to the field on Thursday, because they face a very familiar foe to open the postseason, and it will be an absolute dogfight.

The 3rd seeded Miners will host the 6 seed, who happens to be the Redwood Rangers.

How fitting.

You can’t picture a better playoff atmosphere than the one Thursday night will have. Expecting the 5-5 Rangers to come in and lay an egg couldn’t be much farther from the truth. The Miners have embarrassed Redwood for 6 years and the Rangers would love nothing more than to come in and end that streak on one of the biggest stages. But when these teams first met, the Miner defense bullied the Ranger offense and made them look like a JV team. Not to mention Redwood just lost their precious Cowhide against a rather poor Mt. Whitney team, so they are searching for any kind of momentum themselves.

I can’t even begin to describe how fun Thursday night will be. The thought of losing to Redwood in the playoffs sounds gut-wrenching. And I bet for Redwood, the thought of losing to El D (again) in playoffs sounds just as bad. But the formula the Miners have been using has worked for years, and you don’t fix what’s not broken. Injuries, of course, will be a big issue. Although it looks like DeVontae Freeman and JayVon Hightower will both play, their ability to be themselves and go deep into the game has to be a huge question mark. But with question marks also come some answers. The obvious answer is that if the Miners stay true to what has gotten them this far, then they should have no problem dealing with the Rangers of Redwood.

Thursday is going to be a lot of fun. Win or lose, this is already a season that the Miners can build off of for next year. El D has already garnered the respect of other teams in Division II. But with the season not over yet, and with the Miners being on the last leg of the uphill climb they started when they were 1-3, they still have work to do. A Valley Championship is in grasp, now all the Miners have to do is go out and take it.

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Twitter: @Chandler7Lucas | Read all of his articles HERE.

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