STOCKTON – This was the instant classic, the thrilling battle that everyone anticipated.
And the Tigers, though heartbroken instead of victorious, proved their worth.
Friday’s 42-35 loss, could have gotten out of hand at multiple points, but Tokay (6-2, 1-2 Tri-City Athletic League) rallied from a 14-point second-half deficit to tie the game 35, going toe-to-toe with one of the section’s most athletic teams.
From Daniel Ruffin’s 80-yard, first-quarter sprint, to Wayne Brooks’ 50-yard, tie-breaking bomb to Jamarius Harris with 6:25 left, the Delta Kings (8-1, 3-0) lived by their wealth of game-breaking speed.
Meanwhile, the Tigers were done in by mistakes they couldn’t afford.
Brooks overcame a pick and two fumbles to deliver the victory, pump-faking and hitting an open Harris in stride for the final dagger. It was his second pass of over 50 yards to Harris, as the senior quarterback finished with 328 yards and three touchdown passes, while running for 151 yards and another score. Ruffin added 221 yards on the ground in the Delta Kings’ dizzying attack.
Kelse DePauli-Wiltse passed for 262 yards, a touchdown and two picks while notching two more scores on the ground for Tokay. Allen Ward caught five balls for 105 yards and Alex Burgos keyed a rushing attack that piled up 219 yards.
Stagg will now face St. Mary’s next week with a TCAL title at stake, while the Tigers will think about all their missed opportunities. An upset always involves big-time breaks, and the upstart visitors had enough to fill the entire stadium.
That they couldn’t take full advantage sealed their fate.
Tokay’s club will remember knocking on the door at the end of each half with a chance to tie the game – both times, coming up empty.
After Stagg’s final go-ahead score, DePauli-Wiltse marched the Tigers to the Delta Kings’ two-yard line late in the fourth quarter. There, they faced 1st and goal with 2:21 left, but a fumbled pitch moved them back to the 17 and an interception by Anthony Nichols iced the game.
Back in the second quarter, Stagg stuffed Tokay’s Travis Dart on consecutive goal line carries, setting the stage for Brooks’ 67-yard touchdown strike to Harris and a 20-7 lead.
The Tigers will remember turning only one of Brooks’ turnovers into points, but the one they did pounce on made an unlikely tie possible.
Trailing 35-27 midway through the fourth, Tokay saw a promising drive stall, but gained new life when Joey Patino recovered Brooks’ second fumble of the game at Stagg’s 15.
Dart promptly got Tokay in the end zone, dashing to paydirt on a reverse that, followed with DePauli-Wiltse’s two-point sneak, knotted things at 35-35 with 6:55 left.
However, true to form, the Delta Kings struck just as quickly.
Speedster Lester Williams – whom Tokay had kicked away from all night – gave them that chance by making his only shot at a return count. He darted left before reversing his field, spinning around and jetting down the sideline to set his team up at midfield.
Brooks and Harris, who got behind the Tokay secondary, did the rest.
Until that final back-breaker, the Tigers had responded to every Stagg blow.
After Ruffin put the Delta Kings on the board with his 80-yard jaunt, dodging multiple backfield tackles and sprinting up the sideline, Tokay blocked a punt and made it 7-7 in the first quarter on Kyle Fleming’s 8-yard run.
The stunning turn of events following Stagg's second-quarter goal-line stand could have started a rout, but the Tigers didn’t blink. DePauli Wiltse lofted a 35-yard aerial to Kyle Rivers in the end zone, answering to make it 20-13 with less than a minute before the half.
A critical defensive stop by the Tigers made sure the score stayed that way at the break.
Taking over with 38 seconds left, Brooks brought the Delta Kings on the cusp of the goal line, reeling off runs of 21 and 36 yards.
On the half’s last play, he broke free again from Tokay’s 23 and seemed certain to score – until a group of Tigers swarmed him, stopped his progress before the goal-line and prevented a touchdown.
It was a rousing stand that got them back in the game and, eventually, on the brink of a momentous win.
An upset that, unlike Brooks on that play, just slipped through Tokay’s grasp.