After going 2-3 in nonleague games, many local pundits quit talking about the Patterson High football team as Western Athletic Conference title contenders.
All the Tigers did then was win four of their last five games, including a 26-6 triumph Friday, Nov. 13, over visiting Hilmar to clinch second place in the WAC. They head into the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs riding as high as a 6-4 team can get.
“We know that we’re better than a third-place team,” Cozart said. “Going into our game against Livingston (Oct. 30), everybody thought that the winner of that game was going to take third.
“We wanted to prove everybody wrong.”
The Tigers have since embraced their “dark horse” identity and talked about finishing strong, knowing the season doesn’t end in October.
“This whole season, (some newspapers) have been talking bad about us,” Patterson senior tight end Jacob Priester said. “They’ve been saying that we don’t stand a chance against most of the teams we’ve gone against.
“We saw an opportunity to feed off of what others think. We’ve turned it into fuel for us. If nobody thinks we can win, that’s fine. It doesn’t affect us at all.”
Playoff brackets were scheduled to be announced on Saturday, Nov. 14.
“The playoffs give us the perfect opportunity to prove everybody wrong once and for all,” Priester said. “We want to show everybody what the dark horse is all about.”
It didn’t take long for the Tigers to get going on Friday.
Patterson took the game’s opening possession 74 yards on seven plays, and Wyatt Young capped the drive off with a zig-zagging 5-yard touchdown run.
It took the Tigers just two plays to find the end zone on their next drive. Patterson quarterback Cody Weinzheimer spotted Priester up the right sideline, connecting on an 85-yard touchdown.
“(Hilmar) is the team that we’ve been waiting to see all year,” Cozart said. “To show up in Week 10 the way we did means that we are clicking at the right time.”
Hilmar sophomore quarterback Andrew Olson struggled in his varsity debut. Olson — replacing starter Quinton McCown, who was lost the week before to a broken collarbone — never seemed to get the Yellowjackets’ spread offense going.
Credit the Tigers’ defense, who forced the Yellowjackets (8-2 overall, 3-2 WAC) to punt five times in the first half alone.
“The defense was there for us,” Cozart said. “We pressured when we had a chance. We knocked balls down when we had a chance. We forced turnovers when we had a chance. It was an all-around effort.”
Nathan Shelton followed a Nick Ward block 52 yards to the end zone to put the Tigers up 19-0 at halftime.
Weinzheimer kept the Tigers rolling in the third quarter, hitting Young with an 8-yard touchdown strike.
Hilmar, meanwhile, missed on a pair of long field goal attempts, only breaking up Patterson’s shutout when Olson scored on a 1-yard run with 20 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
No matter. The Tigers were content to run out the clock and claim the victory for their senior players in their final home game.
“This win makes the season feel so much better,” Priester said. “To beat (Hilmar) on Senior Night, and to have the kind of night that we had — it is a good way to end a rivalry.”
The JV Tigers completed a near-perfect season by defeating rival Hilmar 21-7. The win capped a 4-1 league campaign for the Tigers, who earned a share of the WAC crown with the Yellowjackets.
It’s the first league title for the Tigers’ JV team in five seasons.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to do this with another group of guys,” Patterson coach Steve Cardoso said. “These players sacrificed a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and they played for all the right reasons.”
Patterson (9-1 overall) didn’t get off to its best start. The Tigers failed to score in the first half and looked flustered on offense.
Hilmar, meanwhile, got on the scoreboard first, punching in a 1-yard TD run for the 7-0 advantage.
The second half was all Patterson, however.
Tigers quarterback Brian Todd steamrolled his way to the end zone, blasting his way through the heart of Hilmar’s defense for a 33-yard touchdown run.
Hilmar’s attempt to answer was stopped short when Patterson safety Kendrick Trotter snared an interception to halt the drive.
“Our coach told us that this game was going to come down to heart,” Trotter said. “We weren’t about to lose this game. We wanted to be champions.”
Patterson back Robert Marroquin added a 9-yard touchdown run later in the third quarter. Teammate George Garcia followed blockers through to the end zone, tacking on a 2-point conversion.
“This team is all about execution, taking advantage of opportunities and showing a lot of heart,” Patterson’s Frankie Sanchez said. “We came in mentally focused, and we weren’t playing around.”
Garcia added a 1-yard TD run in the fourth quarter. And Daniel Saldivar sealed the victory for the Tigers, forcing and then recovering a Hilmar fumble with less than 2 minutes to play.
“These players have a resiliency and a tenacity about them,” Cardoso said. “There’s no quit in these guys.”
Cardoso said the future Patterson’s football program looks bright.
“These players have the talent and the desire to be successful,” he added. “They come out and they refuse to lose.
“You can’t teach that.”
• Contact Marc Aceves at 892-6187 or email@example.com.