The final score does not tell the complete story.
Steele Canyon upset the Ramona Bulldogs 24-23 in the Dawg Pound in the quarterfinals of the CIF Division III football playoffs.
The defeat ends the season for the Bulldogs. The 2008 Bulldogs were bigger winners than their final 8-2-1 record.
The 2008 Bulldogs did more than win eight games. They won over a community.
“It took more than the players and coaches to accomplish what was accomplished this year,” said Coach Damon Baldwin. “The credit has to start at the top. Dr. Robert Graeff, our superintendent of schools, gave quality support to our football program from his first day at the helm. Our principal, Tony Newman, was our biggest booster. His support for student/athletes and school spirit is second to none.”
The Bulldogs started preparing for the quarterfinal game the day after they tied Oceanside. The staff met and broke down film and put data into the computer in the infamous Black Hole.
Monday, Nov. 17, was picture day. Tuesday was a hard practice with conditioning. Wednesday was night practice. Thursday’s practice was light.
Friday was a very light day. The team stretched and conditioned. The coaches then drove to El Centro to scout Central Union and Steele Canyon. The frosh, junior varsity and varsity staff made the beautiful trek to the Imperial Valley, mainly because Steve DeStefano and a supporter named Moosh set them up with a steak and lobster dinner at Golden Acorn Casino.
On Saturday, the coaches broke down film and input data into the computer. The team came in and lifted and conditioned.
School was out for the entire week, but it was business as usual for the Bulldogs. On Monday morning, the team came in and lifted. Practice was at 3. On Tuesday, practice as usual. Wednesday’s night practice under the lights was wet. It rained the entire practice, which meant that the team and staff got wet.
On Thanksgiving, the team practiced from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. After practice Baldwin instructed the team to enjoy their families and try to be moderate on the consumption of turkey and the other goodies. His plea was met with some pretty sly smiles.
Baldwin also said that if anybody did not have a place to eat for Thanksgiving to see him privately. Three coaches took up his offer.
On Friday, there was a morning meeting. Baldwin gave an inspiring speech and then asked any seniors if they had anything they wanted to say. Several seniors gave motivational messages to the team.
Karen Vaughan treated the team to a brunch at Sizzler. Team mom Lisa Lopez was there. “Lisa Lopez is the most wonderful lady on the planet. She is the dictionary definition of TEAM MOM,” stated Baldwin.
At 4:30, the team met and went over special teams and made final preparations for the game.
The game started off with Steele Canyon driving for a touchdown to take a 7-0 lead. Ramona answered with a drive of its own with Ryan Morgan going the final 20 yards off left tackle to make it a 7-7 game going into the second period.
The biggest play of the game was a déjà vu moment. Mikey Head intercepted a pass and returned it 47 yards for an apparent touchdown. The touchdown was nullified by a penalty away from the action and the Bulldogs failed to score on the possession.
Steele Canyon’s defense held and the Cougars drove the length of the field to take a 14-7 lead with only 1:30 left in the half. Ramona then put together a two-play 19 second drive.
The second play was a 53-yard strike from Ian Hunt to Head. Colin Murphy, up from the junior varsity, hit his second of three PAT kicks and the score was tied 14-14 at intermission.
Steele Canyon started the second half with a successful onside kick and drove for a go-ahead field goal to take a 17-14 lead.
Steele Canyon then scored the winning points on a third and twelve play. Ramona put pressure on Cougar QB Brad Boehmke, but the sophomore got off a perfect strike to Jake Wragg for a 73-yard TD. The PAT gave Steele Canyon a 24-14 lead.
Ramona scored on a 9-yard Joey Dambrose rush. The PAT made the score 24-21.
Ramona’s defense then came alive and pushed Steele Canyon back and forced a punt. The snap on the punt was bad and Ramona had great field position. They could not convert a third and one or a fourth and one and Steele Canyon took over on the Ramona 8 yard line.
The Dawg defense forced a punt, but Ramona turned the ball over on a fumble. Again the Dawg defense pushed the Cougars backward and scored a safety, making the score 24-23. Ramona fumbled on the ensuing free kick and the Cougars ran out the clock.
Steele Canyon controlled the clock holding the ball for 33 minutes compared to 15 minutes for the Dawgs.
“Sometimes things just don’t go your way,” Baldwin said after the game. “That is life. That is the lesson football teaches you about life.
“The team was down, but they held their heads high. They displayed class all the way.
“We owe this community a lot, and we will do our best to pay them back. Brian Stemm really did a great job marketing this game. What a crowd! Creswell Marketing made great signs and other stuff to get the community informed. Doug Sooley’s Web site helped spread the news. Joe Wier is the best announcer in the county. He gets the crowd going in a positive manner. Joe Edwards is a great game host. All of the visiting teams complimented his work. Jim Piva donated flashing signs to help build the spirit.
“The staff put in many hours and prepared our student/athletes in many ways that are more important than just Xs and Os. Not just the varsity staff but the entire staff. The players worked hard and provided the community with some exciting moments. They worked in a great weight facility that Ransom Brothers donated the materials for. Our chain gang has been on the job for over 20 years. Our spirit squads generated more spirit than I have ever seen before.
“I know that I left out some very important people, but the bottom line is this community. It supports its student/athletes, its schools, its auto programs, its band and choir. This a special place to live in and work for.”
There were many tears. I wouldn’t want to coach players who didn’t cry after a devastating loss. But behind many of those tears were smiles. In the not too distant future, when the disappointment is forgotten, the team, coaches, the spirit squads, the band and pageantry squad, student body, the parents, the teachers and all of the elements that make up this community will realize that many more smiles and cheers were generated than tears by the Bulldog football team of 2008.