The Last Leg – El Diamante

For the 2nd straight season, the El Diamante Miners will play for a chance to advance to the Valley Championship. Although the Miners have had very different kinds of seasons, the last two years has served as a wake-up call to the rest of the Central Valley. The Miners aren’t back, they haven’t been brought back to life, they never left.

The Miners blanked the Redwood Rangers 16-7 in the opening round of the Division II playoffs. They now have a 7 game winning streak going against the Blue Crew, and in their first playoff meeting since 2009, the Miners did the same thing they’ve done ever since their season took off in the 4th week of the season. They grinded and battled their way through a Ranger team that was doing everything they could to keep their season alive. It wasn’t the prettiest thing in the world, but the Miners once again jumped on the backs of their defense and rode their way to a 16-7 victory.

The Rangers had one key drive that resulted in a touchdown, but after that it was all El D. 50 of the Rangers’ 121 yards of total offense came on their only scoring drive of the game. The drive was capped off with a Touchdown scamper from RB Alex Rivera that put the Rangers in front 7-0. But the Miners soon dialed up a response that proved to be the difference in the game. The Miners pieced together 3 Field Goals from Alex Saldana and a Touchdown run from DeVontae Freeman to help put the game on ice. But even though the Miners held the Ranger offense to just 2.6 yards per play, it felt like the game was still hanging in the balance. Saldana connected on a chip-shot 19 yard Field Goal with 2:22 remaining in the game to give the Miners a two-score advantage. Based on the way the Miner defense has been playing all season, and on Friday, a 9 point lead seemed like too much for Redwood to overcome.

The Miner offense was led by another productive performance from Junior Quarterback Parker Boswell. The Miners’ gunslinger connected on 9 of 14 passes for 128 yards, also adding some extra help with his legs.

Even though the Miners walked into the game injured beyond belief, they still found a way to win. Among the walking wounded were DeVontae Freeman and JayVon Hightower. Freeman has been the Miners workhorse and featured back ever since he took over earlier in the year. JayVon Hightower has been the Miners’ top Receiver since the very beginning. Both Freeman and Hightower left the Saddle game against Golden West with injuries and didn’t return. The thoughts of not having both of those guys available seemed like a death sentence for the Miners’ season. But after the short week, both Freeman and Hightower played and made impacts against Redwood.

Hightower did most of his damage as a Cornerback. He broke up a couple of passes from Redwood’s Hector Gonzalez and finished with 1 catch for 4 yards himself. He played a very limited amount of snaps on the offensive side of the ball. On the other hand, DeVontae Freeman didn’t miss a beat. The Miners’ workhorse finished with 93 yards on 32 carries and a score. For the majority of the night, the Rangers D did a pretty good job of limiting the big plays we have seen from Freeman ever since he took over as the featured back. But completely shutting down #22 is a lot harder than it seems.

Freeman was also awarded the team MVP at the Fall Sports Awards Ceremony on Monday. He gave all the credit to his offensive line.

Much like the first meeting (and most of the other times they’ve played), Redwood and El D football games aren’t flashy. They typically aren’t very high scoring, and they almost always go right down to the wire. Friday night’s 16-7 dogfight perfectly resembled the Miners’ season. The Miners didn’t need to put up 30 points, and they didn’t need for DeVontae Freeman to rush for 200 yards. Instead, they relied on their defense, which has been the backbone of the Green Sea’s success. Their formula to top Redwood, and all season, has been for the offense to provide just enough so their defense can walk on the field and slam the door shut. It’s worked for years against Redwood, it worked against Golden West, and it’s worked all season. They win games by being blue collar and bullies between the white lines. Physicality, ball control, draining the clock, and clutch drives. It’s been vintage Miner football that has led them to a now 8-3 record.

El D’s daunting schedule now just got a whole lot tougher. The Miners will travel to Dinuba to face the Emperors in the Division II Semi-Finals. Dinuba has lost one game all season, the last loss the Miners took this year was on our homecoming night… to Dinuba. Revenge is looming the minds of anyone who wears the Miner uniform, along with many other things. Like El Diamante, Dinuba has built their entire offense around the run game. They have one of the best rushing attacks in the Valley, so priority 1 for El D will obviously stop the run. The Miner defense isn’t even on the same planet as it was on when these teams first met. They’re rumbling into this game after limiting a very capable Redwood offense to under 130 total yards. So, as cliche,as it sounds, if the Miners can limit the Dinuba rushing attack and make the Emperors beat them with the passing game; then they should like their chances.

Parker Boswell and DeVontae Freeman will do their part. The biggest key will be if the Miners can keep getting production from guys who have stepped in due to all the injuries. Eric Zendejas (who has one hand as a Wide Receiver, and will have a feature in the Visalia Times Delta), Reno Gonzales, and Jarred Torres all came up big last week. They will be the X-Factor along with the defense. Parker Boswell and DeVontae Freeman will be the top priority for the Emperor defense, so if the Miners can keep getting help from the replacements, they will be in great shape.

The Miners are on the last leg of their uphill climb towards a Valley Title. They’ve done it the old-fashioned way and keep turning heads every time they add another check to the win column. They expect to be in the Valley Championship. If they can keep up the gritty defense, and if the offense can keep doing their part to compliment the defense’s valiant effort; they’ll charge their way right into that Valley game. Once they get there, anything can happen.


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

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