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Vikings celebrate senior night as Cougars end season with consecutive victories

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Gervais sophomore Javi Rodriguez gets pulled down near the goal line in the first quarter of the Cougars 36-26 win over Colton. Rodriguez would ultimately punch it in for the first of three scores on the day.A blazing crimson sunset in the background of Colton High School heralded the conclusion of the 2021 football season for the Vikings on senior night as they hosted the Gervais Cougars Thursday.

And while Gervais ultimately took home the 36-26 win behind the two-headed rushing attack of senior Jeremiah Studer and sophomore Javi Rodriguez, both coaches were reflective of the journey it took to get here and the work that went into making the past month of play possible.

"I'm really proud of these seniors," Colton head coach Brynie Robinson said of his five outgoing members of the class of 2021. "We had about 10 seniors and half of them didn't come out ... I'm happy for them too and they made the decision for them, but I'm just really happy for the seniors who stayed and were still hopeful, because we didn't know we were going to have a season until the very start of the first practice."

Prior to the contest, the Vikings recognized those five — Hunter Collins, Jeremiah Armas, Joseph Moore, David Vasilash and Dallas Mullins — who held out hope with the rest of the team as the fall season was pushed back into the truncated schedule in March.

"There's a lot of uncertainty, but the kept coming even though there was doubt on whether we'd have a season," Robinson said. "We just kept the hope alive. I'm just really proud of those seniors for being here."

It was likewise difficult for a Gervais team who was playing for its third coach in as many years after JJ Navarrete took over the program for the 2021 season.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Colton's Jeremiah Armas is crowned by his parents as the Vikings celebrate senior night for the five members of the class of 2021."I've been involved for five years with the program, so this is the first time I got a shot to be the head coach here," Navarrete said. "I told the boys we work hard, we believe in the offense, we believe in our defense and we can be successful."

The Cougars took the message to heart this season, bouncing back from a pair of close losses at the beginning of the season to claim victories in their last two games to close out with a .500 record.

"League wins at that," Navarrete said. "I don't think Gervais has had (two) league wins that I can recall. I was hoping for the culminating week and it didn't happen, but what better than to go out .500 with the win."

The win over Colton Thursday wasn't technically a league victory after the Vikings played in Special District 1 this football season, but the two schools remain in the 2A Tri-River Conference for most sports. And the back-to-back victories for Gervais to end the 2021 season was reminiscent of the 2013 season in which the Cougars won consecutive league wins in the last two weeks of the regular season to secure its first state playoff berth in more than 50 years.

As was the case eight years ago, it was a powerful running attack that was responsible for the win Thursday night in Colton, as the Cougars racked up 212 yards and four touchdowns on the ground in a back-and-forth game that was ultimately decided in the fourth quarter.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Gervais senior Auggie Guido fights to retain the ball against Colton junior Jackson English in the first quarter. Guido finished with two catches for 77 yards and a touchdown.Studer bulldozed through the line with a team-high 116 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, while Rodriguez countered with three scores off 16 carries to go with 53 yards.

Not to be outdone, Colton's Ben Behrens led both teams with 126 yards on the ground, the majority of it coming on his opening rushing attempt of the night — a 78-yard scoring run up the middle to help the Vikings claw their way up from a 12-0 deficit.

Colton took a 20-18 lead going into halftime, but the Cougars rallied in the second half. Gervais opened their third quarter with a 46-yard pitch-and-catch from Rey Marrufo to Auggie Guido to take a 24-20 lead and followed with a pick-six from Jorge Barroso later in the quarter to make it a 30-20 game.

The VIkings responded with a 47-yard run on the next series from Lance Gunter to set up a one-yard score by Rickie Hendrickson to cut the deficit to 30-26. But that's as close as Colton would come, as the Cougar defense held steady for the final quarter.

Gervais finished the season 2-2, while Colton fell to 2-3.

Ultimately, though, for Coach Robinson it wasn't about the wins or losses, but everything outside of the game that led to this point.

"It's senior night and we battled, and that's all we can hope for. Things don't go your way in life, as we've seen this year," Robinson said. "For them it's more important that they get better as a man, husband and father. That's what matters. We just want them to be better men for their community."

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Colton sophomore Lance Gunter fights through a pair of would-be tacklers to pick up a first down against the Cougars in the final game of the season for both teams.

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