With under six minutes left in Saturday’s 6-A regional final rematch between Galileo and Rio Vista, Lions star running back Yarvell Smith saw the most action he had all game. It was in the stands.
Down by more than three scores, Smith’s twin sister got into a verbal altercation in the stands. Smith made his way into the stands to separate the parties.
Smith — who had rushed for 332 yards and four touchdowns on 23 carries in the first two games — had gone down with a right ankle injury with 5:43 to go in the second quarter. Not wanting to risk any further damage in a 54-30 non-league loss, head coach Marcus Blacksher had Smith take his pads off. So, he went and played peacekeeper.
“Yarvell’s always breaking up fights,” Blacksher said. “Everywhere we go and there’s a fight, he’s breaking it up. Yarvell’s breaking up fights at school all the time. It just goes to the character of our football players. We try to build good people while winning games. That’s very important to me as a coach.”
As proud as Blacksher was of his reigning Academic Athletic Association Player of the Year, he would rather not see him climb up into the stands with a gimpy leg.
Smith began the game with an 80-yard touchdown rumble to cap the Lions’ opening drive, and rushed for six more yards on four more carries, including one that saw him stacked up at he line and pushed back five yards by the entire Rams defensive line. He came off limping after that play, and returned after icing his ankle during halftime, but after a 20-yard kickoff return, had to sit.
“He could have continued to play, but the game, we were down three touchdowns in the second half, and he’s obviously a key player for us,” Blacksher said. “Of course we’d love to win, but this is not a must-win for us. We’d rather him be healthy and get ready for next week.”
Facing relentless edge pressure from the Rams — who lost 20-14 to Galileo in the 6-A Regional Final last season — and missing the threat of Smith, along with two key offensive linemen out due to injury, the Lions’ offense was disjointed, at best.
“Hopefully, we get them back by the time the regular season comes,” Blacksher said. “The reason they got a lot of outside pressure is because last year, in the Northern California Championship, we ran a lot of tosses, a lot of sweeps, and we were able to get outside. They did their homework. I can’t give their coaching staff enough credit.”
After the two teams got knotted at 6-6 with eight minutes gone in the first quarter, Rio Vista began to pull away. With 3:38 to go, the Rams got their second touchdown, a 16-yard run by senior Ryan Hurley, the first of his two touchdowns on the day.
Galileo’s 31-yard Ronald Fox touchdown pass at the start of the second quarter was waved off because of a personal foul, and a bad snap on fourth-and-12 ended that drive.
One of the linemen missing? Starting center and defensive tackle Rafael Oropeza, who hurt his knee in the first game and is out for six weeks. Snapping was a weak point for the Lions throughout the afternoon.
Without Oropeza on the defensive line, Rio Vista quarterback Ethan Medders completed three straight passes for 33 yards, and Hurley spun his way out of a mob of Galileo defenders for a 31-yard score with 9:29 to go in the second.
Hurley rushed for 169 yards on 19 carries on the day.
Fox reversed field on the ensuing kickoff, taking it back 80 yards for a touchdown to make it 20-12.
Rio Vista marched 64 yards for another score — a 28-yard touchdown from Medders to Conor Cline — and Galileo responded with a nifty roll right by Fox for a 22-yard touchdown strike in the back corner of the end zone to Reese Bickart to make it 27-18.
The Lions had a chance to get even closer after an interception by Michael Duran at the Galileo 23, but the Lions gave it right back. Fox, as he was dragged down in the backfield on third-and-12, heaved a ball deep middle, but the pass fell short and was picked off by Robert Zamarripa.
Jimmie Edwards III picked up one of his two sacks on the day, but the Rams recovered thanks to an ill-timed penalty that tacked on 15 yards to an 11-yard reverse by Quinn McGill, who rushed seven times for 82 yards. Hurley carried the ball on three straight plays, finishing with a five-yard touchdown with 27 seconds left before the half to make it 34-18.
A second pick by Fox ended the half. He finished an unofficial 6-for-17 passing for 106 yards, with three interceptions and one touchdown. He also ran 11 times for 76 yards, but was sacked twice, without the benefit of Oropeza and with guard Joseph Ale playing intermittently.
Rio Vista scored two straight touchdowns to take a 47-18 lead, followed by a pair of Edwards scores — a five-yarder and a 56-yard rumble with 6:17 to go.
The 56-yard score saw Edwards bully his way up the middle, and follow his blockers towards the open field, where he angled away and accelerated through the second level. Edwards finished with 77 rushing yards on seven carries, unofficially.
The Rams responded with a 76-yard scoring drive, capped by an eight-yard touchdown run by Medders.
Galileo’s last-gasp drive ended when Fox was picked off in the end zone with 2:25 to go.
After beating their first two opponents by a combined 116-21 score, Blackshear was anxious to see how his team would bounce back after facing its first real adversity.
“I can tell you at the end of next week’s game,” Blacksher said. “We’ll see how we come back on Monday, but usually, we have a pretty good answer. We’re usually a pretty hard-working team. We worked hard for this game … It’s humbling for me as a coach, it’s humbling for us as a team, but sometimes you need this, and I think we’ll bounce back.”
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that running back Yarvell Smith broke up a verbal altercation between his sister and opposing fans. Smith helped separate the participants of the verbal altercation, but they were not Rio Vista fans.