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Panthers fend off Raiders in playoff opener
Three rushing touchdowns in the third quarter broke open a tied game and boosted No. 3 seed Maxwell High into the second round of the Northern Section Division IV playoffs with a 35-14 victory Friday against No. 6 Burney in Maxwell.
Senior quarterback George Barajas scrambled for two touchdowns in a span of about three minutes and Luis Rolon ran 23 yards for a score in the third quarter, breaking open a game that was deadlocked 14-14 at halftime.
Those three touchdowns and a successful halftime tune-up on defense sent the Panthers into the second round to face Mountain-Valley League co-champions, Portola — a team that invaded Maxwell's homecoming on Oct. 19 and earned a come-from-behind 27-21 victory. The Panthers make their attempt at revenge with a spot in the championship game on the line as the visiting team Friday in Portola.
Maxwell (8-3, MVL co-champions) tried out a new defensive scheme in response to struggles against Wing-T offenses in losses earlier in the season, but the Raiders scored on a 15-play, 95-yard drive, and capitalized on a short field after a long kick return for a second touchdown to keep the game knotted 14-14 at halftime.
Burney converted on 5 of 7 third-down situations in the first half, but were 0 for 6 on third down in the second half after the Panthers reverted back to their regular defensive set.
The overhaul paid immediate dividends when senior defensive tackle Daniel Manson jarred the ball loose on a reverse and defensive tackle Russell Jones dove on it.
Jones, who faced double teams throughout the first half, shifted down the line to play nose guard and spent the majority of the second half wreaking havoc on the Raiders' run game.
"I just had one guy to deal with instead of dealing with getting between the double team and that freed up (the linebackers) to get inside there," Jones said. "Everyone stepped it up, the seniors thought, 'This is our last game on this field and how do you it to be remembered?'"
Two plays after Jones' fumble recovery, Barajas shot through the middle of the Raiders' defense for a 26-yard touchdown.
Maxwell clamped down along the defensive line and forced a Burney three-and-out. The line turned around and led the offense on a four-play, 41-yard drive and another scoring run by Barajas, this time from 6 yards out.
"The line did a great job, they always do, but that was a really great job. They gave me a lot of time to throw," Barajas said, after completing 6 of 10 for 152 yards, and he was even better running the ball with nine carries for 106 yards and three touchdowns.
After forcing another Burney punt, Barajas dumped the ball off in the flat to Eddie Rangel, who broke outside before being pushed out of bounds 47 yards later. Rolon took a hand-off on the next play 23 yards for the final score of the game with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
As a team, Maxwell ran for 302 yards and passed for 152. The Panthers moved the ball well in the second half, but two fumbles well after the game was already out of reach kept Maxwell from adding to the score. Maxwell coach Robert Wilson attributed much of their second half success to the veteran offensive line of Manson, Jones, Hunter Ortiz, A.J. Rolon and Zach Troughton.
"They were talking and making adjustments on their own up front so that was helping too. They had one of their (defensive) linemen who they put on our smallest lineman, and he was kicking his butt, so we started cross-blocking him and that seemed to make a difference," Wilson said.
Rolon ran 16 times for 168 yards and two touchdowns, Rangel added two catches for 65 yards, and Blake Vierra had 36 total yards.
The Raiders often devoted a linebacker to shadow Barajas, which opened up quick passes and the running game.
"I caught on after the first quarter that they were sitting there and waiting for Barajas to keep the ball every time, so we called some quick-hitters and that seemed to go better," Wilson said.
Maxwell scored first on its second drive of the game when Barajas hurdled a downed defender en route to a 21-yard touchdown on a quarterback draw. Barajas booted through the first of his five point-after kicks for a 7-0 lead. Burney quarterback Michael Gallagher scored on a spinning, 12-yard touchdown but the Panthers stuffed the conversion attempt early in the second quarter.
Barajas responded by escaping the pocket for a 28-yard run on third down, and Rolon finished off the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run.
On the next drive, Gallagher caught a break when his deep pass went through the hands of a Maxwell defensive back and Logan Winningham caught the deflection for a 41-yard completion to the goal line. Senior running back Robert Wall punched in a 3-yard touchdown two plays later and then ran in the conversion, tying the game at 14-14.
Burney finished the game with 272 rushing yards and 41 passing yards. Wall was the Raiders' primary threat on offense, carrying the ball 25 times for 164 yards and a touchdown.
CONTACT Kirk Barron at 458-2121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.