The outcome of their final game wasn’t what they wanted, but the season was everything they could have asked for. The Temecula Valley High School Golden Bears took on the El Camino High School Wildcats at Herb Meyer Stadium Friday, Dec. 6, but fell 34-18 in their first ever CIF Division 3AA State Regional Bowl game. A win would have moved them on to this week’s state championship game, but that would have just been icing on the cake for head coach Bert Esposito and his team. Not only did every member of the Golden Bears team walk with their heads held high after that final game, but so did their fans. They also walked away as city champs, Southwestern League champs and CIF Southern Section Division 7 champs.
“This team exceeded more expectations and won more than any team in program history,” Esposito said after the loss. “The experience of this season I am sure has been life changing. It has been for me. I know the memories will be with them all forever.”
The Golden Bears (12-3) got off to a slow, wet start with the rain making field conditions rough. El Camino (9-3), with home field advantage, capitalized on back-to-back turnovers and led 14-0 before TV could get on the board toward the end of the first quarter with a 27-yard Gino Tulimero field goal. Things went dark again right away for the Golden Bears when back-to-back touchdowns from the Wildcats left the score at 27-3 going into halftime.
It seemed as if there was a momentum shift for Esposito’s team when Antonio Olivos recovered an onside kick to start the third quarter, but five plays later El Camino’s Noah Sega returned an interception 71 yards for a 34-3 lead. Temecula Valley had a hard time getting their running game going all night. Brody Hughes was held to 18 yards on only six carries and senior Logan Moreno (96 yards rushing on eight carries) could only provide a spark of hope with his 62-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. In the third quarter, sophomore Zachary Zella came in to relieve senior QB Zach Cutka, who ended up rushing for 26 yards on five carries. Zella will likely be the next QB1 for the Golden Bears in the coming years.
Defensively it didn’t help that the Golden Bears were without the services of their top pass rusher, Jay Max Jacobsen, who injured his shoulder in last week’s CIF championship win.
“I can’t take anything away from El Camino. They are a great team,” Esposito said. “Though, it would have been interesting to see us at full strength.”
The high school will see 22 seniors depart the program after this year, opening the door for almost 30 returning juniors to help get Temecula Valley back to the playoffs in fall 2020. As for the El Camino Wildcats, they will play Cardinal Newman High School this week for the Division 3AA state title.
JP Raineri can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.