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Knights spoil Wildfires’ first night

By: Eric J. Gourley Journal Sports Writer
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FORESTHILL — The Foresthill High Wildfires couldn’t wait to play under their new lights. To prove it, they nearly turned a rout into a classic comeback. After fumbling seven times in a sloppy first half, the Wildfires outplayed Brookside Christian of Stockton over the final 24 minutes and fell just short on their final drive, falling to the Knights 30-24 in the season opener for both teams Friday night. Trailing 30-18 with less than three minutes left in the game, Foresthill senior Kyle Potter recovered a Brookside fumble at the Knights’ 22-yard line. Seconds later quarterback Shawn Pyle’s 1-yard touchdown dash pulled the Wildfires to within a score, electrifying the boisterous crowd. An onside kick was unsuccessful, but Potter intercepted Brookside quarterback Alex Lee’s third-and-16 pass at the Knights’ 46 with less than two minutes remaining to set up an all-or-nothing drive. Pyle ran 11 yards on the first play but was thwarted by strong pass coverage and offsetting penalties on his next two aerial attempts. With 44 seconds on the clock, Pyle was sacked near midfield on a third-and-18 play but a facemask penalty gave the Wildfires a final set of downs. “We were looking to get the ball in the air and the defense knew exactly what we were doing,” said Pyle, a senior. “I was telling the o-line I needed a little bit of time to get that ball. We were just trying to get downfield quickly.” Pyle’s fourth down attempt fell five yards in front of a fully-extended Arron Cook, allowing the Knights to take a knee with 18 seconds left. “They had plenty of opportunities to fold tent and they didn’t,” Foresthill head coach Jim Herlehy said. “I’m real proud of that. I think that’s an optimistic sign.” All seven Foresthill fumbles came in the first half. Two of the three recovered by the Knights led to quick touchdowns and Pyle’s only interception led to a 44-yard touchdown run by Robert Fernandez, a score that put Brookside on top 24-0 with 5:58 left in the first quarter. “We were just all too jittery about the lights,” Potter said. “We were so pumped up that we just had a hard time focusing on the fundamentals we needed to win the game. We knew we were a better football team than that. We just had to put those jitters aside and play like we do. That second half we played like we can play and almost came out with a win.” The lights were turned on during a halftime ceremony before jubilant fans, and the Wildfires stopped the Knights on the opening drive of the third quarter before marching 59 yards on 16 plays to cut the deficit to 24-12 on an 8-yard Pyle keeper. “Across the board nerves were big,” Herlehy said. “When my guys were coming into the huddle at halftime, once we had that little success, they were saying, ‘OK, good, I got that out of my system and I’m feeling good now,’ offensively and defensively.” Potter, who scored the first Foresthill touchdown on a 2-yard scamper in the second quarter, added another short score late in the third quarter to make it 30-18 Brookside. Potter had 13 carries for 72 yards to lead the ground attack, while Pyle completed 8-of-18 passes for 178 of Foresthill’s 269 total offensive yards. He connected with Arron Cook for completions of 75 and 21 yards. “We feel like we’ve progressed enough with our program to where moral victories and hanging tough isn’t really good enough for us,” said Herlehy, whose squad is coming off a 2-8 season. “It’s not a total disappointment, but by the same token our guys aren’t going, ‘At least we didn’t lose by 20.’ They expect more of themselves. They’re not going to listen to anybody who says, ‘Well, you don’t need to be that good this year.” The Wildfires host Delhi High next Friday at 7 p.m. Foresthill’s junior varsity squad will open its season prior to the varsity game.